As the record cold continues, programs in New Hampshire that help people pay their heating bills are seeing more demand.
In Sullivan and Cheshire counties, Southwestern Community Services chief operating officer Beth Daniels says they have about as many enrollees so far this year as normal – around 3,500, with at least 5,000 expected by the end of winter.
But she says the cold is having an impact:
"All last week and already today has been phenomenally busy, just people calling us out of heat, out of fuel, or very [close] to being out,” she says.
Some callers have burned through their monthly fuel subsidy faster than normal due to the cold, she says.
The state’s fuel assistance program can cover about 30 to 50 percent of a monthly energy bill, paying between $300 and $1,125, depending on income, household size and their type of home.
This year, Daniels says they’ve had high numbers of another type of request:
“Since the temperature dropped, I would say there’s probably at least 20 calls a day in each office of brand new people with no fuel,” she says. “We are required to see folks that are in a no-fuel, no-heat situation within the same day or two.”
Normal enrollments for publicly-funded programs like Daniels' take time. She says they have 600 appointments booked out over the coming months.
To speed things up, she says they can refer urgent cases to other local service providers, and work with their fuel vendors to add deliveries and waive certain fees.
That’s especially important in more rural or farther-flung areas – for example, in Stoddard, Daniels says.
“When you’re in a more populated area, you can kind of hit twenty different apartment units or twenty different houses all on the same stretch of land,” she says, “whereas our folks might be ten, twenty, thirty miles in between each other.”
Fuel assistance programs will also help pay to winterize homes in need, but that waiting list can stretch for years. This winter, Daniels says they're handling more priority cases – elderly clients, families with small children, or homes without a working heating system.