EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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February 13, 2014

No help against the cold

Families struggle as heating assistance money runs out

HAVERHILL — It’s been a very cold winter in New England, as Rebecca Coburn of Haverhill knows only too well.

For many Merrimack Valley households like hers that rely on heating assistance, it’s bound to get colder.

Community Action Executive Director John Cuneo said more than 1,300 households in the Haverhill, Amesbury and Newburyport area that are eligible for his agency’s Heating Assistance Program have either exhausted their entire benefit due to the harsh winter or are getting close.

With federal money running out, Community Action is asking state lawmakers to release $20 million to help offset federal cutbacks and help low-income people who have no more money available.

Cuneo said many more local households are expected to run out of heating money over the coming weeks. They include Coburn’s family.

Coburn, 22, is a single mom raising two children: A 4-month-old son with medical problems and a 2-year-old son.

Coburn said she received 300 gallons of fuel oil last winter and kept the thermostat low in her Lewis Street apartment to make it last. But when it finally ran out in January 2013, she resorted to using a space heater.

She said for this winter, she received 200 gallons in October through the Community Action program. That lasted until she received an emergency delivery of 100 gallons in last month through the city’s fuel assistance fund. Like last year, she keeps the temperature as low as possible, she said.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do when it runs out,” Coburn said. “I will call Community Action, but I don’t know what they’re going to say.”

Cuneo said that of all the households served by his agency’s heating assistance program, 75 percent have someone who is 60 or older, 5 or younger, is disabled or a veteran, or some combination of those.

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