Thursday, January 14, 2010

Need for home heating help still rising in Bristol

Here's a story I wrote for Friday's Bristol Press ( about how the dramatic rise in requests from residents for help with home heating bills continues to rise. Tom Morrow, the executive director of the Bristol Community Organization, didn't know of any reason for the increase other than the lousy economy. The caseworkers at BCO are scrambling to process all the applications:

The number of people applying for energy assistance to heat their homes through the Bristol Community Organization continues to rise.

“The volume has increased dramatically,” said Thomas Morrow, executive director of BCO.

Morrow blamed the poor economy as the primary source of the 2,202 cases as of mid-November, three and a half months after starting to accept applications. That’s 230 more households in need this winter than at the same time last winter.

“They’ve lost their jobs. They’ve had their hours cut,” Morrow said.

Some people may have had money put aside, said Morrow, but had to use it to cover expenses.

“Now they’ve depleted all their savings,” he said.

Because of the high demand, BCO caseworkers are processing more than 80 applications for help every day, according to Morrow.

Appointments are backed up until March, with people who use deliverable fuel like oil, propane, wood or coal served first because they aren’t protected by a shutoff ban.

“We want to hear from them sooner than later,” said Morrow.

Customers of utility companies can be classified as a hardship, which means the company can’t cut off their heat during the coldest months. It buys some time for processing a heating assistance claim, so those applications are handled later in the winter or early in spring.

When someone comes to BCO for help with heating bills, the caseworker will also advise them about other programs they may qualify for, said Morrow, such as food stamps or home weatherization.

“We can kind of triage the situation,” said Morrow, and give guidance on how and where to apply for other help.

Morrow said a comparison is best made between this winter and the winter of two years ago because in both instances, the agency began accepting applications on August 1. Last year, the intake began a little later, Morrow said.

The difference between those two seasons shows a jump of more than 200 percent, said Morrow.

“We’re the highest increase of any area in the state,” said Morrow.

According to information from Connecticut Association for Community Action, an organization of a dozen community action agencies like BCO, the Bristol-based non-profit showed an increase of 229 percent increase in the number of applications through mid-November.

The state average for the same time period was a 125 percent increase.

After Bristol, the area that showed the biggest increase in the two-year time span was Stamford, with a jump of 201 percent, followed by Danbury with a leap of 185 percent.

BCO serves low income, handicapped and elderly residents of Bristol, Plymouth, Plainville, Farmington and Burlington.

To apply for heating assistance, call BCO at 860-584-2725.


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