BREWER, Maine — To find out what resources are available to help keep households afloat this winter, a new source is available to tap.

The University of Maine School of Economics in Orono along with campuses in Farmington, Fort Kent, Machias and Presque Isle are partnering with area communities, UMaine’s Cooperative Extension and the Maine Business School to kick off the Household Financial Education Initiative.

Brewer was the first community to be introduced to the initiative. Hugh Stevens, special projects assistant for the School of Economics, explained the pilot program to Brewer City Council members at the regular meeting earlier this month.

“Many local families will struggle to keep up with financial expenses this year,” he said at the meeting. “This challenge will intensify as winter requires dramatic increases in energy use as families work to keep their homes warm.”

Because of increases in heating fuel, food and gasoline, “The working poor, elderly on fixed incomes and, most poignantly, single-parent homeowners will struggle to stay ahead of their financial bottom lines,” he said.

The Household Financial Education Initiative is a work in progress designed to help people who typically are on the edge of qualifying for low-income programs, Stevens said on Tuesday.

“Folks who do not qualify for General Assistance are our target audience — the working poor,” he said. “Our intent is to try [to] help them make the best of the resources available to them” and alert them to all programs they may qualify for.

Those programs and resources include, but are not limited to ones provided by federal, state and local communities, area churches, community centers, food cupboards, regional and local banks, and social service agencies such as Penquis.

“This winter, even those families who have not had budgeting problems in the past will have to make tough choices between purchasing necessities and meeting home heating costs,” Stevens said.

Household Financial Education Initiative representatives are making presentations to groups all over the state, meeting with individuals, and giving information over the phone. A resource link at the School of Economics Web site,, also will be available by mid-October.

Sharon Hagenman, director of the initiative, can be reached at 581-1853 for information or to set up presentations.

“Right now, people aren’t really concerned about it because it’s 70 degrees out,” Stevens said. “In November, the story will change.”