By Jan Demers
More and more grandparents are assuming a parenting role for their grandchildren. For example, I know two senior citizens who are solidly in this position. The grandchildren are both under seven years old. The grandparents own their own home and both are on Social Security Disability Insurance. They live in a beautiful part of Vermont and it is way outside of town, way outside. The trips into town are infrequent. Cold weather will have them seeking help from the Warmth Program to keep heat in their home. While at CVOEO they will use the food shelf to cover the costs of feeding the extra people now around the table.
The Warmth program, which has existed since 1986, is administered by CVOEO. It is intended to supplement Vermont’s Seasonal and Crisis Fuel Assistance services. Warmth funds are always paid directly to the fuel or energy supplier.
The program is emergency based. Community Action staff screen applicants for income eligibility and need. Applicants must be within five to seven days of running out of bulk fuel or in danger of having their utility service disconnected in order to be considered for financial assistance through Warmth. Community Action staff work with the applicant to examine their monthly income and expenses, their available resources, and their capacity to make realistic repayment arrangements (for past-due metered services) or to cover part of the cost of a delivery of bulk fuel. Community Action staff also screen applicants for eligibility in other supportive programs, such as the VT State Seasonal Fuel Assistance Program, 3SquaresVT, Weatherization and Vermont Health Connect Insurance.
Warmth funds are entirely donated. CVOEO uses 100 percent of all donations to keep people warm.
Last year’s autumn, winter and early spring months were challenging for families reliant on financial assistance to get through the winter. It was a long, cold and extended season. Warmth funding was critically important, particularly at the start and the end of the season. When seasonal and crisis fuel benefits are exhausted, the Warmth Program is still helping.
In part, due to the reduced level of seasonal and crisis fuel funding, the annual per-household Warmth limit is being raised for the present heating season to $300. It is not unusual to have families asking for help with utility disconnections in excess of $1,000. Warmth provides that flexibility to the Community Action agencies if an individual household has an extraordinary need.
Karen Haury, one of CVOEO’s Community Action directors, describes the Warmth Program as a bridge. “Some people, especially the elderly, need just a little bit more before their social security check comes in. That may come in the form of cash and carry kerosene helping to hold on until their check can pay for a full delivery of fuel.”