Heating Help Available for Those in Need

By Emily Finch, The County Times
David Noss, SoMd.com, Contributed to this Story

SOUTHERN MARYLAND - Many families are in need of financial assistance for their heating and electric bills this holiday season. While this is not a new issue, it does have more serious connotations this year. SMECO, Southern Maryland's primary electricity provider, has started enforcing a 2005 decision that impacts those unable to make payments. SMECO will no longer allow those who can not the pay the high electricity costs during the winter months the grace of waiting until spring before they disconnect the service. The enforcement of the policy ends a 24 year moratorium against winter disconnects ( See related story ).

Fortunately, the Office of Home Energy Programs (OHEP) has created the Maryland Energy Assistance Program (MEAP) to help those in need. The program is run by the Maryland Department of Human Resources. “MEAP has been in existence since 1981, when the federal government recognized the energy crisis throughout the nation,” said Mary Lou Kueffer, Director of Home Energy Services for the Maryland Department of Human Resources. It is a federally funded program that offers eligible Maryland citizens assistance paying heating bills as well as some assistance in repairing broken or inefficient refrigerators and furnaces.

Last fiscal year, July 1, 2005 through June 7, 2006, MEAP received nearly 107,000 applications, according to Kueffer. Of those, 92,000 households were given assistance, most in more than one grant. The number of applications MEAP expects to receive this fiscal year is around 125,000, Kueffer said.

Kueffer said the expected uptick in applications this year will be due to the increase in the income eligibility requirements. “We also take into account the increased cost of electricity and fuel statewide,” he added. The milder winters have had no impact on the number of applications received by MEAP.

To receive a grant from MEAP, potential applicants must meet specific requirements. These include, but are not limited to, income requirements, existing public assistance, and veteran or disability status. A full list of these requirements can be found on the MEAP website ( www.dhr.state.md.us/meap ) or at any application office.

An application must then be filled out at any local energy assistance office. In the tri-county area, this office is located in the Luther Stuckley Building in Hughesville. Applications can either be dropped off there or at a local Department of Social Services office. In St. Mary’s County, this office is located in the Carter Building on Leonard Hall Drive in Leonardtown. There is also a satellite office on Great Mills Road in Lexington Park that can receive MEAP applications on designated days. A list of these days can be obtained by calling 240-895-7000. To receive applications by mail, the number is 1-800-352-1446. If potential applicants are senior citizens or disabled and cannot make the trip to the office, a home visit can be arranged.

The amount of the grant is determined by the applicant’s income range, family size, consumption, type of fuel used for heating and the geographical area in which they live. “This amount is tailored to individual needs,” said Kueffer. “It ranges from the minimum of $48 to a maximum $1,150.” After an application is received, approved and processed at an OHEP office, the grant will be sent to the applicant’s heating supplier. After December, this grant may take two to four weeks to be issued.

MEAP grant applications are accepted throughout the program year, July 1 to May 31. They are then processed until June 7. Applications must be submitted every year for consideration. According to Kueffer, they are not saved from year-to-year.

The home heating grant does not impact other public assistance benefits.

For more information on the Maryland Energy Assistance Program, or how to get additional help over the holiday season, contact St. Mary’s County Department of Social Services at 240-895-7000. Other sources of financial assistance are available in our Getting Help at Christmas Guide.

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