EAST LONGMEADOW – The Council on Aging (COA) has begun taking applications for those in need of fuel assistance this fall and winter.
Janice Michaelis, community service coordinator at the COA, told Reminder Publications she believes programs benefiting residents in need are vital to the community.
“There are people here that come here that can’t imagine that there are people in East Longmeadow that have this type of need,” he added. “I think a lot of education needs to be done to make people aware.”
She said 80 to 100 people from East Longmeadow and surrounding communities apply for fund assistance each year.
Michaelis said she’s assisted people who were affluent in the community and never thought they would need help.
“Through family circumstances they may have had money and for one reason or another a child needs help – they help the child and leave themselves without. They will come to me [and] it’s hard for them to come,” she explained.
She said she believes poverty in suburban communities is an issue that is often overlooked.
“More and more people, people that I have never heard from, will call me and ask what they need to do to apply and a lot of it is because the cost of living,” Michaelis noted. “And these people, especially if they’ve been retired a while, they may have gone through what money they had. I like the fuel assistance program because it allows people, especially widows, to stay in their home. Once their spouse dies, that income is gone [and] they find themselves in a totally different situation.”
Michaelis said she doesn’t believe anyone should place judgment on those who receive assistance.
“There are all different situations that have brought people to this situation that they’re in,” she noted. “Sometimes it’s been out of their control. Maybe they had money and spent it unwisely, maybe they didn’t prepare well enough [for retirement]. I can take any age. We’re the only [town] social service agency in the community.”
“With the families, I see working families, but they’re still not making enough,” she continued. “They still need that extra help because what they’re getting paid is not enough to cover everything.”
She added that anyone eligible to receive fuel assistance should apply. The deadline is until the end of April. Eligibility for fuel assistance is based on income and the number of people in a household.
“Many of these people paid into the system for years and never wanted to take that help,” Michaelis said. “I do see the tide turning a little bit because my real aged elders, people in their 80s and 90s, it’s very hard for them to come and ask for help, but since we’ve seen the baby boomers they’re much more attuned to what’s available for them and they are much more apt to come and ask.”
The COA sends the applications it receives for fuel assistance to the Valley Opportunity Council in Holyoke, which began paying bills incurred after Nov. 1, she noted.
For more information contact Michaelis by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone by calling 525-5436 extension 1402.