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ACAP taking proactive measures to ensure County households can access Federal Home Energy Assistance Program benefits

ACAP taking proactive measures to ensure County households can access Federal Home Energy Assistance Program benefits in wake of news, that with funds running short, the program will stop taking applications after March 1, 2024

Aroostook County Action Program is working to get all remaining households with intake appointments for the federal Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) currently scheduled out beyond the end of February rescheduled. This, following the announcement today that Maine will stop accepting new HEAP applications for benefit payment after March 1, 2024, as funds for the current heating season are expected to run out.
In a correspondence from MaineHousing officials earlier today to Community Action Agencies across Maine, including ACAP, the following was stated:
“Based on the most current projections, we will not be able to guarantee payment for processed applications taken after 5:00PM on March 1, 2024. HEAP has now used over 75% of the funds available and has additional applications in the pipeline that we expect will use the remaining funds. We will make every effort to provide assistance to eligible applicants who submit a completed application by the deadline, but cannot guarantee that assistance will be available.”

Immediately after learning of the news, ACAP’s Leadership and Energy and Housing officials convened to develop a plan to move appointments currently scheduled for after March 1, 2024, over 270 altogether, up into the month of February. The goal to get as many customers in the season before the newly imposed deadline.

Typically, the Home Energy Assistance Program season in Maine runs from mid-summer through late May, or even late June. Last year, for the first time in recent memory, the program ran out of dollars in Maine and ended in mid-April. However, the Maine State Legislature, in passing LD3 in January 2023, had established the Winter Energy Relief Program (WERP) for that season for households in a fuel emergency unable to access programs like HEAP. Any energy assistance requests after the early ending of the federal program were supported last winter and spring through WERP.

“This announcement comes at a very challenging time for Aroostook County and Maine residents who rely on the Home Energy Assistance Program to supplement their cost of energy to make it through the cold winter months,” said Jason Parent, ACAP Executive Director/CEO. “Those who have already received their HEAP benefit this season are well aware that the total benefit is down substantially from last year. The average household benefit in our service area is just above $500 this season, compared to $1060 last season. Add to that a supplemental payment, also passed by the Maine Legislature through LD 3, and households ended the last heating season with a combined over $2,000 to augment their heating cost for 2022-2023.”

To date, this season, ACAP has taken over 5,740 applications for HEAP, with a projected total through the end of the season, originally scheduled to run an additional three months, of upwards of 8,000. The Agency currently has 1,018 scheduled appointments in the month of February, and are now taking measures to do everything possible to ramp up.

“Our HEAP Team, upon learning this news, knew immediately that we needed to do all we could to ensure as many County households as possible get their benefit before the funding runs out. Over the next week, customers with appointments after the March 1 date will be contacted and rescheduled to get in earlier. We are taking a number of measures to increase the volume of intake appointments we can do in this new month,” said Josh McAtee, Coordinator of Energy and Housing Programs at ACAP. “We will work diligently to get this done, while at the same time fielding the hundreds of calls for emergency fuel this season that have increased substantially over last year, due in large part to the significant decrease in benefits.”

Fulfilling emergency fuel requests is also more challenging this year. ACAP is currently awaiting very limited additional funds from the United Ways of Maine following a recent statewide telethon to replenish its now empty coffers of donor funds to provide support for households unable to access HEAP. More than $100,000 in funds raised through the WAGM-TV/United Way of Aroostook/ACAP Helping Hands Telethon in mid-November were spent in providing emergency fuel assistance in November, December and early January.

“The combination of the huge drop in HEAP benefits, continued high cost of household and consumer goods, and resulting increased demand for households facing fuel emergencies has created the perfect storm,” said Parent. “We are really hoping that federal and state leaders will understand that the need is great and consider what can be done to help Aroostook County residents and people across Maine get through the rest of the heating season.”

In their public statement today, MaineHousing indicated that households needing assistance after the March 1 deadline will be encouraged to apply and a waiting list will be kept, should there be funding available. The MaineHousing statement goes on to read: “We will work through the pipeline as quickly as possible, but please know that assistance is not guaranteed.”