Unitil Corporation, (Unitil.com), a provider of natural gas and electricity to customers throughout New England, is urging customers to be aware of fuel assistance programs available to assist with heating costs as winter approaches.
That was the message shared with nonprofit and community leaders who participated in a virtual heating assistance forum sponsored by Unitil and co-hosted with United Way of North Central Massachusetts in partnership with New England Farm Workers’ Council.
Liana Pasialis from New England Farm Workers’ Council, which manages the Federal Fuel Assistance program, said a family of four with a household income of $75,201 or less would qualify for the program. For a single person, the income figure is $39,105.
"We recognize that many of our customers may have had their employment or income change significantly as a result of the pandemic, and there may be people out there who are facing financial hardship for the first time."
Alec O'Meara, Media Relations Manager
According to Pasialis, residents should apply for this program as soon as possible and not wait until financial difficulties before seeking assistance. It was also noted that the Fitchburg office is closed due to the virus, but is taking new applications by telephone. Residents can learn more about qualification guidelines for fuel assistance by reaching out to New England Farm Workers’ Council in Fitchburg at (978) 342-4520.
Unitil Credit Supervisor Sue Corson reviewed the utility company’s budget billing program, which makes monthly utility bills more affordable by leveling out higher seasonal energy bills, which are spread out throughout the year.
In addition, customers may qualify for a discount rate on natural gas or electricity, depending on household size and income. According to Corson, effective Nov. 1 the discount rate for electric customers increased from 25 percent to 34.5 while the natural gas discount remains at 25 percent. Unitil works with the New England Farm Workers’ Council to approve customers for the discount rate as well as other agencies that provide public benefits.
Customers who qualify for the discount rate, have an overdue balance of $300 or more for their gas and/or electric service and enter into an agreement to pay their current utility budgeted bills on time, may be eligible to participate in the Arrears Forgiveness Program, which provides up to $4,800 in relief per year on their outstanding balances.
"We recognize that many of our customers may have had their employment or income change significantly as a result of the pandemic, and there may be people out there who are facing financial hardship for the first time. We want all of our customers to know that there are programs out there that can help, but we can’t help unless they call. Our customer service team is standing by to go through the programs available," said Media Relations Manager, Alec O’Meara.
Unitil’s Derek Kimball reviewed Unitil’s Mass Save energy efficiency programs, including the recently implemented “Virtual Home Energy Assessment”, its online store for discounted energy efficiency products and income-eligible programs, which are managed in assistance with Making Opportunity Count (formerly known as Montachusett Opportunity Council) in Fitchburg. The program also provides energy saving improvements, such as insulation and heating system repairs at no cost to homeowners with income 60 percent or less of the state’s median household income.
Kimball also reviewed Mass Save’s enhanced incentive offers, which are designed for household incomes that fall between 60 percent and 80 of the state’s median income. The program also provides incentives for renters that include:
- A virtual or in-home visit from an energy expert to conduct a no-cost home energy assessment
- Installation of instant savings measures of light bulbs, power strips, water saving aerators and showerheads
- In addition, energy efficiency information is collected on potential weatherization upgrades to share with the landlord.
As a special offer, the program also allows for a 90 percent incentive with no cap to install energy saving home improvements, such as insulation, air sealing if a home assessment is scheduled between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31. Customers may also be eligible for interest-free loans capped at $25,000, for up to 84 months, on qualifying energy efficiency upgrades through their lender. There are also generous incentives for qualifying older working yet inefficient heating equipment.
United Way of North Central Massachusetts told listeners about its Emergency Shelter Program, which provides emergency shelter to homeless people during extreme weather conditions. The initiative is managed by United Way, with its community partners, and funded by the Ronald M. Ansin Foundation and the Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts. For more information, local agencies can call the United Way of North Central Massachusetts at 978-345-1577 x304.