Opinion: Just over the edge to receive financial help

What happens when you are one percent over the eligibility limit? You need help and help is so close but the edge of the cliff is crumbling underneath you.
She had come to our office ten years ago and needed help paying for fuel. Year after year the cold of winter brought her back. She just didn’t have enough money to get her through the cold times. That is one face of poverty. After obtaining a new, higher paying job fuel assistance wasn’t necessary. We hadn’t seen her for the last five years.
This year, however, she became ill and a little bit later her child became ill. She still had her job but was on unpaid medical leave. Her new position held future security. It didn’t pay the present bills. She came to our Community Action Office one more time. Just dollars over the income limit she was ineligible. That is where Warmth funding took over. We have the flexibility to extend the limit in certain circumstances and this was one. She came crying and shaking, not from cold but from fear. She left with a certain amount of peace.
Whitney Cassell, is CVOEO’s Fuel Coordinator. As we were talking the other day she said “Adhering to a rigid $100 per visit may not solve the client’s immediate need and will only push the issue further into the winter, making it more challenging to address later on. It is not a misuse of funds issue, it is truly a poverty issue.” There is a $300 limit per family for Warmth Funding.
The Warmth Program is in its 32nd year and 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 vendor on behalf of Vermonters with low income.
For this emergency or crisis program 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. CVOEO staff work with applicants 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, and Weatherization services.
Warmth funds are donated. CVOEO uses 100 percent of all donations to keep people warm.
During last year’s heating season CVOEO helped 1,747 Unduplicated Households 2,486 times through $309,253 in donations.
CVOEO is in the business of helping people step back from the edge of cliffs. Community Action Offices in Middlebury, Burlington and St. Albans will help those needing fuel. Warmth donations can be sent to CVOEO, PO Box 1603, Burlington, VT 05402.
 “A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just.”  —Pope Francis
Jan F. Demers is the Executive Director of CVOEO.

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