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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Shore Up! Can Help with Heating Bills

BERLIN — In the coming weeks, the temperature will drop for good and the high cost of heating will put the bite on many area residents. For those who struggle to keep up with their energy bills, Shore Up! administers two state energy assistance plans aimed at helping keep the lights on and the house relatively warm.

The Maryland Energy Assistance Program (MEAP) and Electric Universal Service Program (EUSP) programs they administer for the state, provide relief for low income households. So far this year, the programs have received more than 1,100 applications for assistance from residents of Worcester County, which generally makes up 25 percent of the tri-county applicants.

According to Shore Up!, as of the end of September there has been a notable uptick in applications with nearly 50 percent of last year’s applications already filed before the weather even began to turn cold and energy bills began to increase.

The EUSP concerns general energy assistance required all year by people without the means. The MEAP deals exclusively with heat. Although it is generally associated with electric, the program can provide help with gas and oil bills as well. It is also the program through which people who have had their utilities disconnected can have them restored and payment arrangements made.

While both are administered all year, the cold months are when they see most of their applicants. This year, however, those who rely heavily on the program may have to seek additional ways to deal with the rising heating costs.

In the past, the program was able to take a significant dent in the money owed area electric companies but as program funding is cut and the number of people requesting assistance grows the amount of individual funding available has dwindled.

Keith White, who administers the program in the three lower counties, said this year the program may only be able to help to pay one month of electric or even less.

“You do not have to wait until you get a cutoff notice to apply,” he said. “[But] do not [solely] depend on that money.”

For those who might need help for the first time as well as for those who have used the service before, new rule and policy changes aim to make the most effective use of staff time as well as the most effective use of the available state funds.

In the past, much of the application process was given on a first come, first served, basis. Recently, however, the process has evolved so that people are given an appointment time. That limits the frustration of waiting and the likelihood someone will show up unprepared and take up two appointment times as they learn what the process requires.

“It’s an assistance,” White said. “Just something to help you with the bills during the heating season.”

Although the Shore Up! MEAP in Snow Hill often can see people on a walk-in basis, making an appointment helps administrators prepare applicants by letting them know which documents to bring. White said the state regulations, and by extension Shore Up!, require applications be complete before any effort can be made to prevent a disconnect for non-payment.

For those in dire straits, White said, it is imperative to make sure to present all the required documentation to speed up the process.

With the help of Shore Up! local electric providers — including the Berlin Electric Company — can postpone turning a person’s electric off for 55 days. If the application is not processed in that time, however, there is nothing Shore Up! can do to prevent the turn off.

White said that people who have had their electric turned off and want help getting it back on should bring their disconnection notice along with the other requisite identification to Shore Up! on Fridays, which is the day the company handles emergency circumstances.

To receive help, a person must complete an Energy Assistance application and provide supporting documentation: proof of residence, Social Security cards for all household members, a photo ID — the person whose name is on the bill must apply and bring the documentation, spouses who are not on the bill may not apply, most recent heating bill, and one month’s worth of pay stubs or other proof of income.

For those whose power has already been disconnected, proof of disconnection (the door hanger, for example) will be required as well.

Applications can be received by calling 410-749-1142, Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.  Applications can also be picked up during the week at any of Shore Up! Energy Program’s offices. The local office is at the Head Start in Newark.

Applicants can also download an application by going to People needing assistance with gas and oil bills should note that no state funds are received for those programs until after Nov. 18.