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Opinion: Crisis, emergency repair and a long term fix

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Posted on April 25, 2016 |
By Jan Demers



It was Friday night and he had no heat. His furnace was broken beyond repair. He was elderly, living alone and without any means to pay for a new furnace. CVOEO’s Crisis Fuel Program and then the Weatherization Emergency Heating program were called. Jeremy Francis, a CVOEO auditor, met him at his home. The furnace was replaced on Saturday morning. It was an emergency. The furnace needed to have an immediate fix or he could not stay in his home.

She was seriously ill and had lost her job. “I was always the one that gave to charity. I’ve worked for 40 years and never asked for help from anyone. Now I found myself alone with no family, no money and not able to heat my home.” She was in a crisis. Because she was over 60 and ill, she didn’t need to physically come into the Community Action Office but called to ask for assistance and received it through the LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) Crisis Fuel Program. She was “in the squeeze,” as described by Whitney Cassell, CVOEO’s crisis fuel coordinator.

She was another elderly woman living in a single-family home. She had very high fuel bills and poor heating and ventilation systems. She was cold — all the time cold. Her husband passed away several years ago and it was his job to do all the maintenance. So now the maintenance wasn’t being done. She was the first and only owner of her 1961 home. The immediate need was a furnace replacement. After applying for weatherization services, her home was insulated and air sealed. The combination of a highly efficient heating system and weatherization of the home resulted in a savings of 30 percent. The value of peace of mind is incalculable.

The Vermont Legislature is in the midst of deciding how to meet crisis situations through state LIHEAP funding, deal with emergencies through the Emergency Heat and Furnace Replacement Program and provide the long-term solutions found in Weatherization. It has been a struggle often pitting services for those in poverty against each other. “If you could only have one of these programs what would it be?”

There are no disadvantages or shortcomings to the Weatherization program. It is wholly positive. However, the other side of the equation, and the one that stares us in the face every day, is that of crisis. There is a move to eliminate crisis fuel program for those from 150 to 200 percentage of the federal poverty level. These are the people who are on the edge — on the very edge. The research shows that giving the right amount of money at the right time will keep these folks on more stable footing. They are the people “in the squeeze.” I trust that the Legislature will find a way to keep the balance. 

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