Today may be the first day of spring astronomically, but for Cambridge residents facing income fuel bills, winter is still here.
The price-per-gallon of home heating oil has risen by about ten cents since September, Richard Slifka, treasurer of Kyett Oil Company in Cambridge, said yesterday. He added that the average homeowner's bill has gone from about $600 to about $730 since last winter.
The Somerville and Cambridge Economic Opportunity Commission (SCEOC) has received more than 2000 applications since late February for the $495,000 the federal government has earmarked to provide emergency relief for citizens in a 12-town area including Cambridge, Jon Spector, energy program director of the SCEOC, said yesterday.
The SCEOC can give citizens up to $250 in emergency assistance if they meet federal guidelines for need. A more liberal interpretation of those guidelines has allowed more people to receive money, and "we expect to spend every cent," Spector said.
As soon as a citizen fills out an application, the SCEOC can make an emergency oil delivery or intervene to put a hold on a delinquent account.
Slifka said about 15 or 20 per cent of Kyett's customers' bills are delinquent over the course of the winter. He added that the company might give long-standing customers more than the usual 30 days to pay.
"Our policy is probably typical of the industry, maybe a little milder than some. We're a fairly big company so we don't have the cash-flow problems a smaller company might have," Slifka said.
"The bulk of the people really want to pay. If they don't it's usually because they can't," he said.
The SCEOC is also empowered to pay outstanding bills, loan space heaters, or help out people who are under financial hardship because they chose to pay their heating or utility bills.
"Our main priority is crisis intervention. The program does not approach policy. It's helping in terms of a stop-gap measure," Spector said.
Spector said "there has to be exploration into alternative resources of energy and conservation such as utility rate regulations and no-shut-off policies for the elderly.
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