BOSTON -- On the eve of the coldest night of the year, Citizens Energy Chairman Joseph P. Kennedy II joined with energy companies and anti-poverty agencies to advise Bay State residents on where to find relief from freezing temperatures.
As temperatures hit seasonal lows this weekend, many low-income families and senior citizens were facing brutal conditions with little or no idea about who to call in case of a heating emergency or for some help with their heating bill.
“Every single second of every single minute of this day, vulnerable individuals around the state are huddled in their homes watching the clock -- shivering -- and not knowing where or who to turn to next. These people need our help,” said Kennedy during a press conference at the downtown headquarters of Action for Boston Community Development.
Kennedy advised individuals and families facing an immediate heating emergency to call 911 for help. For fuel-assistance needs, the group recommended calling the Massachusetts Heat Line at 1-800-632-8175 to apply for free federal fuel assistance benefits and gain access to the full array of energy programs for low-income households.
Amidst the crowd of community activists and potential recipients, Boston resident and single mother Kimberly Alexis listened intently as Kennedy, a former U.S. Congressman, talked passionately about programs available to low-income families and presented the contact information for each program.
“It’s not easy being a single mother and trying to raise two children on your own. I just pray by the grace of God each day that somehow I find a way to keep my kids warm,” said Alexis as the temperature outside hovered close to zero degrees Fahrenheit. “And this time of year is the worst.”
“Last year, ABCD helped me weatherize my apartment to lower some of the draft coming into my apartment through the windows. I am so appreciative of everything they have done for my family and me. I don’t know where I would be without their help,” Alexis commented.
ABCD, the largest anti-poverty agency in New England, provides fuel assistance and other energy services to income-eligible households. Applications are still being accepted for the free federal benefit, which provides up to $687 worth of assistance. John Drew, vice president of ABCD, said activists were pressing the state and federal government for additional funds to expand the level of aid to those who have already exhausted their allotment. Last year’s maximum benefit of $1,200 was reduced by more than a third because of federal cutbacks and the lack of any financial support this year from the state, said Drew.
“We’re getting cold weather with a vengeance. We have pleaded to both the state and federal governments to fully fund these programs. We have people here in this state that are freezing. We need that money,” said Bob Coard, president of ABCD. Coard urged residents needing heating assistance to call ABCD at 617-357-6012.
In Massachusetts, Citizens Energy provides discounts on heating oil to eligible individuals who need it the most. Families interested in receiving the discount oil can call Citizens Energy Corporation at 1-877-JOE-4-OIL (1-877-563-4645) for an application.
Jim Hunt, Chief of Environmental and Energy Services for the City of Boston, assured Bostonians that the city would take the necessary steps to deal with crisis situations and urged people in need to call the Mayor’s Help Line at 1-617-635-4500
“As people all across the city experience low and frigid temperatures this weekend, we will have extra staff and resources on hand to deal with all emergency situations. Please do not hesitate to call 617-635-4500 if you need help,” said Hunt.
Representatives from the state’s largest utilities, KeySpan, NSTAR, and National Grid, urged people to call MassSAVE at 1-866-527-7283 to access information on utility programs and learn how to save money on energy costs through various conservation and assistance programs, including discount rates, budget plans and energy efficiency upgrades.
Bay Staters can also call the Salvation Army at 1-800-334-3047 for short-term financial crisis assistance through its Good Neighbor Energy Fund. As a last resort, the United Way Special Fund at 2-1-1 offers emergency financial assistance to low-income families.
Julie Vitek from Distrigas said that the LNG importer works with Citizens Energy to provide a natural gas subsidy to families in need. Applicants should call 1-866-427- 9918, she said. The program provides subsidies for people who may be ineligible to receive federal fuel assistance but cannot afford to pay their heating bills. Vitek also said that those families who have exhausted their governmental fuel assistance allotments and need further help should apply.
Above all, Kennedy stressed the importance of community responsibility and compassion.
“What is most important,” said Kennedy, “is that every resident of our state take responsibility to help those less fortunate than ourselves. Go knock on the door of your elderly neighbor and make sure she has heat. Make sure she is not suffering. Make sure she is not alone. And if it comes down to it, make sure she has a warm place to go.”