As Massachusetts shivers through bitter cold, an $80,000 grant from National Grid will enable non-profits throughout the region to offer fuel assistance to struggling families.
Gifted to the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, the grant was given to eight organizations across the state, including those in Quincy, Boston, and Cambridge, and will directly help families who cannot afford to keep their houses warm this winter.
“Last year, we assisted over 3,100 families with rent, mortgage or utility payments. That was about two-thirds was for some sort of fuel - often it’s families of multiple needs that utilize these funds,” said Kory Eng, assistant vice-president of community impact for United Way.
Funding has been cut on a federal level, but thanks to the National Grid Foundation, the non-profit can continue to provide fuel assistance to those who would otherwise go without.
“This is a critical fund to augment what has traditionally been put out through the federal fuel assistance,” Eng said. “It also allows a grater degree of flexibility in terms of giving these funds to families in need. We don’t burden people with stringent criteria [to qualify for assistance].”
Even with this help, Eng anticipates it won’t be enough, as often the money for basic needs runs out while requests for assistance keep coming in.
According to Eng, his group set aside $750,000 for fuel and clothing assistance last winter, and still fell $450,000 short of demand, or the equivalent of 2,500 families.
That number is expected to increase this year, as not only will the weather be colder – hence more fuel assistance requests – but the price of oil has risen from last year.
And although last winter was mild, demand in other areas of basic needs – such as food, clothing, and rent assistance – was high and there is no money to roll over into the current winter.
That intense need, lack of federal funding, and growing cold all prompted the National Grid Foundation to give more than normal – typically the organization gives $75,000 in this grant.
“The United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley's emergency assistance program both play an essential role by providing fuel neutral assistance to the neediest members of our community,” said Bob Keller, President, National Grid Foundation, in a release. “National Grid Foundation is proud to lend a ‘warm helping hand’ to our neighbors so they don't have to choose between buying food and paying for their energy bill."
Quincy Community Action Program, along with City Mission in Boston, Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence in Boston, Cambridge Family and Children Services, Ecumenical Social Action Committee (ESAC) in Jamaica Plain, Community Teamwork in Lowell, Tri-CAP in Malden, and Newton Community Service, have each received $10,000 from the grant to go to fuel assistance.
That money will go a long way, said Beth Ann Strollo, QCAP's executive director, said in a release.
“This funding comes at a critical time for our clients,” Strollo said. “For families who qualify for federal fuel assistance, in many cases, it is simply not enough to get them through the winter. We are extremely grateful to National Grid for recognizing this urgent need. Their support will help families stay warm this season.”
QCAP also received $860,000 from National Grid, the company, late last year for fuel assistance and weatherization programs, said Susan Harrington, QCAP's director of development and marketing.
That money has helped fund 84 heating systems and weatherize 101 homes.
Although the funding is helpful, Eng said the organization is still looking to raise money to close the gap between funding levels and need.
People can go to the United Way website to donate, or call Eng at 617-624-8129 to facilitate a donation.
Those that need help are encouraged to reach out by dialing "211," the United Way's information and referral hotline.
Anecdotally, Eng has heard of kids sleeping in snowsuits because it’s too cold in their homes. Living with unsafe heating systems is also a concern.
Clients will only have to provide some information on whereabouts and income level to be connected to a fuel assistance provider, Eng said.