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Fueling self-sufficiency; Fuel-assistance program more than a giveaway.

COLUMN: In our opinion

With fuel prices expected to reach record levels this winter, the fuel assistance program launched by the Worcester Community Action Council this week has taken on added urgency. For many Central Massachusetts families struggling from paycheck to paycheck, the modest help with heating costs can be a godsend.

Under the need-based program, which serves 22 communities in southern Worcester County, families can qualify for fuel aid based primarily on household income. The program lends a temporary helping hand not only to families below the federal poverty line, but also to low-income working families as well. A family of four, even with household income as high as $41,300, may qualify for at least some fuel-cost relief.

The grants are part of a broader effort by the CAC to help people cope with high fuel costs, including several initiatives in cooperation with utility companies.

Families that qualify for fuel assistance also may reduce costs via a free home-weatherization program. Offered, too, are electricity usage audits and, in some instances, replacement of energy-guzzling refrigerators or freezers. An "arrearage management program" helps people get caught up on utility bills by getting them to commit to a payment plan, in some cases combined with forgiveness of all or part of their past-due balances.

The Worcester CAC is one of 24 community action agencies statewide. This year it has served more than 70,000 individuals and families through 21 agency programs, covering a broad range of antipoverty initiatives from food stamp outreach to lead paint abatement.

The overarching focus of the agency is not assistance give-aways but rather programs, such as the arrearage management program, intended to help people achieve self-sufficiency. Among the agency's offerings are GED programs, summer jobs for youth, pre-employment skills training, job placement, financial literacy help and more.

That's a winning formula not only for the individuals and families involved, but the communities in which they live as well.

HOW TO GET INVOLVED: The Worcester CAC is taking applications for fuel assistance for the 2007-08 heating season now at its office on the second floor of the Denholm Building, 484 Main St., Worcester. Apply on a walk-in basis, 8:30-11:30 a.m. and 12:30-4 p.m. weekdays. Appointments for applying in Spencer, Webster, Southbridge and Warren may be made by calling (508) 754-1176, ext. 110. Applicants should bring documentation of residency, household income, fuel costs, child support and other relevant financial data.
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Title Annotation:EDITORIAL
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Nov 3, 2007
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