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Bank to help seniors with heat bills.

Byline: Brian Lee

SOUTHBRIDGE - Southbridge Savings Bank will provide $100 grants for senior citizens who need help paying for home heating costs and who live in communities the bank serves.

The bank announced the $7,000 fund Friday. It is intended for seniors who can't afford a minimum 100-gallon delivery of fuel. The bank's fund expires March 31.

As of Jan. 15, statewide heating oil averaged $3.31 per gallon, with a high of $3.76 and low of $2.88.

"We're going to be making out checks directly to their oil or heating company," Lora A. Baldracchi, the bank's vice president for retail lending, said. "People aren't going to get cash in their hand. It's going to go where it should go."

The bank has branches in Southbridge, Charlton, Sturbridge, Oxford, Worcester and Holden, with supermarket service available in Southbridge, Webster, Spencer and Worcester.

Assistance for other forms of energy besides oil will also be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Faced with a weekend forecast of temperatures in the low teens, Mrs. Baldracchi scrambled late last week to help a local elderly woman get oil heat.

Mrs. Baldracchi came to know the financially strapped woman through her

work on nonprofit programs such as the Worcester County TRIAD, a program promoting senior safety through collaboration of law enforcement, seniors and community groups.

She said the woman had been without heat for several days, owed an oil company nearly $500 from last year and had exhausted other resources.

Mrs. Baldracchi said she thought there was a wealth of local resources to pay for heat, but later found none provided immediate help.

The experiences prompted the bank's emergency relief effort.

Mrs. Baldracchi said she first thought of former Joseph P. Kennedy II's commercial for the Citizens Energy Oil Heat Program, which offers 100 gallons of home heating oil free to people regardless of age.

But that program calls for an application process, three-week wait and can be tapped into just once per heating season, Mrs. Baldracchi said.

Next, the bank tried the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, through the Worcester County Action Council, which offers $490 to $715 for the 2007-08 heating season for low income families.

But this, too, wasn't ideal for emergency situations because it required extensive paperwork and phone lines were busy.

Lastly, bank tried the state Good Neighbor Energy Fund, a free program that helps with winter heating fuel and other energy bills. The fund is for people facing short-term financial crisis and don't qualify for other fuel assistance programs. The maximum from the fund is $275 per household per heating season.

The drawback here, Mrs. Baldracchi said, was a person can't qualify for any other fuel assistance programs. "So I guess you have to plan your emergency accordingly," Mrs. Baldracchi said. "But that lady, she had no program to go to."

"So Joe Kennedy's is wonderful for a one shot deal, the 100 gallons are totally free," she said. "But for people in an emergency situation it doesn't help them one bit. I think they rely upon the local community and the goodness of the people who are in it."


CUTLINE: Lora A. Baldracchi of Southbridge Savings Bank, shown adjusting her thermostat at home, has announced that the bank will provide emergency $100 grants for heating assistance to the elderly.

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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 22, 2008
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