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NSCAP programs help those struggling with heating bills

Monday, December 03, 2012

Doug Cranford knows firsthand that it’s not easy being out of work.

In 2009, he was cut loose from a nine-year job in commercial real estate and wondered how he’d pay his bills, especially with winter coming. When he heard about a new training program offered through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to put people like him back to work in new jobs, he signed up.

Now, Cranford works as an energy auditor at North Shore Community Action Program in Peabody helping others pay their bills. As the colder months approach, most area residents struggling with rising heating costs aren’t always aware of specific programs that offer fuel and weatherization assistance, Cranford said. Especially for people who’ve unexpectedly lost their jobs or for seniors on fixed incomes, Cranford says NSCAP programs and other municipal assistance programs offer help that can make a big difference.

“We’ll come out to someone’s home and do a safety check, making sure the heating system is running efficiently,” he said. “We’ll look in the attic, scan the walls, look for air leakage and do as much as we can to give folks a warm, comfortable and safe place to live.”

That also includes repairing or replacing appliances through a program called HEARTWAP (Heating Emergency Assistance Retrofit Task Weatherization Assistance Program). When one client, for instance, lost his information technology job and the boiler in his Salem home went out, Cranford went out for a home audit. He discovered that the client and his family had used space heaters for months, which increased their electricity bill. Cranford arranged for insulation work, for a new energy-efficient boiler and refrigerator to be delivered, and to switch the light bulbs in the house with energy-efficient ones.

“They’re set for the winter now,” Cranford said.

Cranford said many people often feel guilty or undeserving and try to find other ways to cut back, adding more stress to already stressful situations.

“What people often don’t realize is that we have these assistance programs available for these more difficult times, and that National Grid and other agencies are mandated by the government to set aside funds to make sure folks don’t freeze in their homes and to reduce the overall carbon footprint,” he said.

Almost 565 households on the North Shore have benefited from one of several energy assistance programs this past year, according to Chuck Gallant, director of energy conservation at NSCAP. That means anything from helping pay a family’s heat bill to weatherization services or appliance repair or replacements.

Anyone with an income that is 60 percent or under the state median for their household — which includes anyone living at that address as tenants or homeowners — is eligible for assistance. For instance, Cranford said a family of four earning $60,130 would qualify.

“I talked with a waitress recently who had two kids and couldn’t pay her heating bills because she didn’t realize she qualified for assistance,” Cranford said.

NSCAP serves 30 cities and towns across the North Shore and helps residents primarily of Salem, Peabody, Beverly and Danvers. Whether unemployed, underemployed or on limited incomes, many residents may qualify for heating emergency assistance or weatherization help, programs that Cranford says help neighbors, as well as energy conservation efforts.

“I have a file folder of thank-you notes from seniors on fixed incomes, some on disability who can’t work any longer or others who recently got laid off,” he said. “Then someone tells them they might get some help at NSCAP. This is the first time I’ve worked at a job that helps people and the environment, as well.”

If you need help For more information on NSCAP's energy conservation programs, call  FREE 978-531-0767, ext. 118. For information on fuel assistance, call  FREE 978-531-0767, ext. 136.

Jo Kadlecek
The Salem News
Peabody, Massachusetts