SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

October 10, 2013

Shutdown shutters fuel assistance

PEABODY — One of the most visible local impacts of the government shutdown has been the closure of the Salem National Maritime Historic Site and its visitor center, a move that has left tourists visiting Witch City in the lurch.

But the shutdown may really hit home for low-income local families who need fuel assistance this winter.

The Massachusetts Association for Community Action says community action agencies, including Peabody-based North Shore Community Action Programs of Peabody, are feeling the heat because there is no staff to handle fuel assistance applications.

While fuel assistance programs are supposed to start Nov. 1, community action agencies use October to enroll those who need help paying their winter fuel bills. There are about 200,000 families in the Bay State who rely on these programs.

With the government shutdown, the processing of those fuel assistance applications has been put on hold.

Callers to NSCAP’s fuel assistance line get this message: “The fuel assistance department will be closed until further notice due to the government shutdown.” The voice mailbox does not accept messages.

The fuel assistance program is federally funded, said NSCAP Executive Director Laura MacNeil, and contracts for staff start Oct. 1.

“Because we don’t have a budget from the federal government, we don’t have funding to go forward, and there is no guarantee there will be a retroactive resolution ... the fiscal reality is we are a nonprofit; we need the funds to pay the employees.” MacNeil said.

If the government shutdown lasts until Nov. 1, there would be no fuel assistance money available when the program is supposed to open. The inability to process applications now means there will be a backlog of applications, and that could further delay getting fuel assistance to those who are cold.

The spike in demand for fuel assistance takes place “as soon as it gets cold,” MacNeil said. The fuel assistance weatherization programs to make homes more energy efficient are also going to take a hit.

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