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Fuel requests overwhelm N.H. assistance program

Agency running low on funds as prices increase

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Associated Press / November 19, 2007

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. - The high cost of heating fuel isn't just a number at New Hampshire agencies working to help residents stay warm. It's people, more than ever before, asking for help.

Around the Seacoast, for instance, Rockingham Community Action says it is running out of fuel assistance money as nearly 3,000 families have asked for help, a month before winter begins.

"It is scary," said director Sharon Brody. "The number of applications this year is 300 over last year. Winter hasn't started yet."

So far, 1,900 households in Rockingham County have been certified for fuel assistance.

Another 961 people have requested appointments to see if they are eligible, Brody said.

The agency isn't taking new appointments until after Dec. 15.

Brody says that with the price of heating oil topping $3 a gallon, the agency has enough money to give each household an estimated 150 gallons for the entire season.

"The way prices are going up, it's not even one fill-up," Brody said. "We're still waiting for Congress to approve additional money."

So far, the agency has received $1.2 million and expects to get another $400,000. The money comes through the US Department of Health and Human Services and the state Office of Energy and Planning.

Brody says income requirements for eligibility are based on federal poverty guidelines and have not risen with the price of fuel.

To qualify, a household of one has a cap of $1,552 for monthly gross income; a household of four can make no more than $3,141, or about $37,000 a year.

"We're seeing families, working families; they just don't know how they're going to make it," Brody said. "These are people who are using all of their resources. These are people who have done everything right and have tried to provide."

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