SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB) — Even during July’s sweltering heat, people were still worried about how they’d keep warm in the winter months.
That’s when Mary Ann Kobylanski started seeing applications for fuel assistance come in.
She noticed a spike in the number of people applying for it, since Springfield still has the highest unemployment rate in the state. “I think people are very scared this winter because the price of oil is about $3.70 a gallon. So we are seeing an increase in the number of people walking in our office. Not only are people not working, people are underemployed. We’re seeing an increase in that population. We’ve never had that problem before and now they’re either calling to find out what they’re guidelines are.
Kobylanski is the director of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program at the New England Farm Worker’s Council. It’s a federally funded program to help those afford paying for heat in the winter, no matter if they live in a house or rent an apartment.
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley is urging U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to release the funds programs like Kobylanski’s runs on.
“Right now the only money we have is the money that’s left over from the 2012 budget. At this time, the Department of Housing and Community Development hasn’t received the letter from Health and Human Services and right now we’re under the impression that it’s a $100 million program, compared to $132 million last year,” Kobylanski said.
According to Kobylanski, the $32 million is what’s on hold for this fiscal year. She says the program had already suffered budget cuts going into 2012, they had to lay off 5 people because of it.
Even with the smaller staff, the council says they see about 15,000 applications a year. If you haven’t heard back from them yet, Kobylanski says you should have just a little bit of patience. “Please be patient. The staff is working hard and we have about 70% of the applications coming in, we’ve told people what they need, and we expect another 7,000 to come in.”
The program only serves Springfield. The Valley Opportunity Council serves the rest of Hampden County.
Kobylanski notes that oil prices are so high, that those who receive the highest level of assistance won’t be able to fill their entire tank for the winter. It would cost about $2,500.