Warmth program helps reach those over income limit

By JAN DEMERS

What happens when you are 1 percent over the eligibility limit? You need help and help is so close but the edge of the cliff is crumbling underneath you.

She came to our office 10 years ago and needed help paying for fuel. Year after year, the cold of winter brought her back. She just didn’t have enough money to get her through the cold times. That is one face of poverty.

After obtaining a new, higher paying job, fuel assistance wasn’t necessary. We hadn’t seen her for the last five years. However, this year, she became ill and a little bit later her child became ill. She still had her job but was on unpaid medical leave. Although her new position held future security, it didn’t pay the present bills.

She came to our Community Action Office one more time. Just dollars over the income limit, she was ineligible for assistance.

That is where Warmth funding took over. We have the flexibility to extend the limit in certain circumstances and this was one. She came crying and shaking, not from cold but from fear. She left with a certain amount of peace.

Whitney Cassell is the fuel coordinator for the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity. As we were talking the other day, she said, “Adhering to a rigid $100 per visit may not solve the client’s immediate need and will only push the issue further into the winter, making it more challenging to address later on. It is not a misuse of funds issue – it is truly a poverty issue.”

There is a $300 limit per family for Warmth funding.

Administered by CVOEO, the Warmth Program is in its 32nd year and is intended to supplement Vermont’s Seasonal and Crisis Fuel Assistance services. Warmth funds are always paid directly to the fuel or energy vendor on behalf of low-income Vermonters.

For this emergency or crisis program, applicants must be within 5-7 days of running out of bulk fuel or in danger of having their utility service disconnected in order to be considered for financial assistance.

Our staff work with applicants to examine their monthly income and expenses, their available resources, and their capacity to make realistic repayment arrangements (for past-due metered services) or to cover part of the cost of a delivery of bulk fuel.

Community Action staff also screen applicants for eligibility in other supportive programs, such as the Vermont state Seasonal Fuel Assistance Program, 3SquaresVT, and weatherization services.

Warmth funds come from donations and CVOEO uses 100 percent of all donations to keep people warm. During last year’s heating season, our office helped 1,747 households 2,486 times with donations totaling $309,253.

CVOEO is in the business of helping people step back from the edge of cliffs. Community Action offices in Middlebury, Burlington and St. Albans help those needing fuel. Warmth donations can be sent to: CVOEO, P.O. Box 1603, Burlington, VT 05402.

From Pope Francis: “A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just.”

Jan F. Demers is executive director of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity. 862-2771 ext. 740 or jdemers@cvoeo.org.

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