Town braces for heating assistance increase

By Lisa Williams Ackley

Staff Writer

The Town of Bridgton could see its requests for fuel assistance “likely quadruple to as much as $25,000,” due to cuts in federal funds provided by the State of Maine, Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz told selectmen here last week.

Berkowitz pointed out that it was announced earlier this month that the Federal Fuel Assistance provided by the state “would likely be cut by as much as 50%.”

“If this occurs, there are several possible consequences that we expect,” Berkowitz said in his report to selectmen Nov. 8.

“Fewer people will actually be served exposing them to a greater General Assistance (GA) need,” stated Berkowitz. “That falls back on the taxpayers.”

“We expect a greater number of people will still need fuel assistance, due to unemployment in this area,” Berkowitz said. “The current budget under GA for fuel assistance, $6,700, is likely to quadruple to as much as $25,000, if there is not congressional intervention. We expect a similar impact to our GA utility line item which currently is $2,100.”

Even more serious than that, Berkowitz said, “Some people will go without, exposing them to severe winter conditions that may also impact their health and wellbeing — that’s our biggest fear. And we’re not the only state in the Northeast facing that — we’ve got some serious problems.”

The town manager went on to say that he “expects that Congress hasn’t heard the last” of the New England Congressional delegation, in its efforts to have the reduced fuel assistance funds restored.

“So, we have a problem in Bridgton that is only going to get worse, unless we continue to have good weather for a long while,” said Berkowitz.

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