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There is good reason to worry about Mainers staying warm this winter amid high energy costs. Heating assistance will once again play an important role.
Hopefully more help is on the way for Mainers in need, with Gov. Janet Mills and the Legislature expected to work together on using additional projected surplus state revenue funds for direct aid to Maine people, this time for heating relief. In Washington this past week, Sen. Angus King and Rep. Jared Golden each signed on to letters pressing the Biden administration to develop more of a heating and energy plan for the Northeast heading into another winter.
Regardless of those potential efforts, options for heating assistance already exist — and should now be more accessible here in Maine with the creation of an online application portal for the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP). The HEAP program is federally funded and administered by the Maine State Housing Authority (MaineHousing), with applications processed by regional community action agencies.
“This is an important first step in our efforts to further streamline the HEAP application process,” MaineHousing Director Dan Brennan recently told TV station WGME. “This portal will make applying for HEAP more accessible for thousands of Maine households and we hope it will expand the reach of the program.”
We hope so, too. The addition of this online portal was much-needed. Last winter, when there was an unprecedented amount of heating assistance and some people faced challenges in getting timely appointments to apply for it, it was clear to us that an online application option was overdue to help process applications more efficiently and reduce appointment wait times.
Brennan told us in January that MaineHousing was having talks with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and the community action agencies “to say look, we’ve got to come up with an online way to do this.” It is encouraging that those talks turned to action.
“We are excited to make this program more accessible to people who need it,” Maine Community Action Partnership Executive Director Megan Hannan also told WGME. “COVID helped us to modernize the program by allowing us to conduct interviews over the phone or via another electronic means; adding this front-end step means even less dependence on our customers having to take time to travel to our offices for in-person meetings, as used to be required.”
This change is very much a bureaucratic one, but it can have a big impact for Maine people trying to access this heating assistance program (there is other assistance available too, by the way, and more application information is available on the MaineHousing website). HEAP applications are already up by over 17 percent in Maine this year as of this past week, and the number of processed applications is up more than 25 percent compared to this point last year, according to MaineHousing. Clearly there is a significant need for this assistance, and that emphasizes the continued need to process applications as efficiently as possible.
As conversations about more action to address high heating costs continue at the state and federal level, Mainers who need help keeping warm should not hesitate to explore existing options like the HEAP program. The new online application option should help more Maine people access this important assistance, and access it in a timely manner.