Local Fuel Assistance Program Expands Eligibility

J.D. O’Gara
Help Heating Homes for Low Income Residents Available in Your Town
Issue Date: 
November, 2019
Article Body: 

Heating your home can be an expensive endeavor, but for more people this year, a local fuel assistance program run by SMOC, (South Middlesex Opportunity Council, www.smoc.org), can help.
Kate Fennyery, MA LSW, social worker for the outreach department at the Medway Senior Center, wants to spread the word about the program. Fennyery wants to highlight that the income guidelines to qualify for fuel assistance have gone up this year. If you didn’t qualify last year, you might qualify this year.
“That’s a big deal in terms of helping much more people,” says Fennyery, who says the program is not just for Medway residents, but for residents of all 37 towns served by SMOC. In fact, in addition to the 74 households that received a total of $65,815.93 in assistance in Medway in Fiscal Year 2019, the program helped 61 households ($55,418.51) in Millis, 80 households ($65,941.03) in Holliston, 76 households in Hopedale ($79,718.38), 196 households ($127,860.15) in Ashland and 310 households ($231,297.15) in Natick.
“We know there’s more out there (that need help),” says Fennyery, who’d like to see more people take advantage of the program. “We need more people to realize that they can be helped, and the income limit has gone up quite a bit.”
Residents who are in danger of being evicted from their homes or have recently lost housing in their town can apply for assistance directly through SMOC, she says. “Even if you have an apartment, and your heat is included in your rent, you can still qualify for this,” says Fennyery.
To qualify for the program this year, household annual income for those in towns served by SMOC (South Middlesex Opportunity Council, www.smoc.org) must be below the yearly income limits of:
$37,360 for one-member households
$48,855 for two-member households
$60,351 for three-member households
$71,846 for four-member households
$83,341 for five-member households*
*These limits are subject to change.
Amanda Foster, fuel assistance program director for SMOC, explains that typically, town senior centers conduct intakes. In smaller towns, including Medway, Millis, Holliston and Hopedale, the local council on aging or senior centers welcome applicants of ANY AGE whose incomes qualify them for assistance, and for towns like Ashland and Natick, there are resources beyond the senior centers for younger age groups. All of the help with fuel assistance is done by appointment.
“You can call, and we will let you know what documents to pull together to bring,” says Fennyery, “which saves everybody a lot of time.”
“The fuel assistance program is a federally funded program,” says Foster. “We have a contract with the Department of Housing and Community Development. They administer our funds, which are federally sourced.” Applications for the program are accepted from November 1st until April 30th, and eligibility is determined annually. If a client is eligible, SMOC notifies their primary heating source vendor and utility company, which opens the possibility of a discount rate for that year with the company. SMOC payments are made directly to the utility.
The following lists where Local Town Pages’ town residents can find help applying for this fuel assistance, by appointment:
Medway: Medway Council on Aging, (508) 533-3210, Medway residents, any age
Millis: Millis Council on Aging, (508) 376-7051, Millis residents, any age
Holliston: Holliston Senior Center, (508) 429-0622, Holliston residents, any age
Hopedale: Hopedale Senior Center, (508) 634-2208, Hopedale residents, any age, and Milford Catholic Charities (508) 234-3800, for anyone in: Blackstone, Grafton, Hopedale, Mendon, Milford, Millville, Northbridge, Upton, Uxbridge 
Ashland: Ashland Senior Center, for seniors in town and Ashland Human Services (508) 881-0140, for Ashland residents, any age 
Natick: Natick Human Services, (508) 647-6519, Council on Aging (508) 647-6544, and Natick Service Council (508) 655-1791, Natick residents, any age
Foster adds that if residents qualify for fuel assistance, they likely qualify for another program SMOC runs, the SMOC Weatherization program, which has run since 1972.
“It’s an excellent program,” says Foster. “We’re helping people to stay warm in the wintertime but also to make sure they’re homes are running efficiently. It’s similar to the Mass Save program in making sure their appliances are running efficiently, and things like that, so it’s part of our intake procedure. We ask if they’re interested and notify the Weatherization Department at SMOC if someone is approved. Then, assessors look at their property.”
At no cost to clients, says Foster, the weatherization program will provide insulation and even appliances such as refrigerators, washers, dryers and window-unit air conditioners. “It’s really to make their benefit assistance stretch further,” says Foster. A home that receives full weatherization should save approximately 20% on annual heating and electric costs.