By FELICIA KRIEG
---- — PLATTSBURGH — With temperatures hovering around zero degrees, the streets of Treadwells Mills are almost entirely void of people.
But the Caron family is warm inside their home on Brown Street in the Town of Plattsburgh community, which some locals call “Wiggletown.”
Nine people, including five children, live at the Caron home.
It costs between $150 and $250 to heat the mobile home each month, said Richard Caron.
This month, it’s going to be on the higher end, he said.
“Lately, it’s been running nonstop,” Richard’s wife, Danielle, said of their furnace.
TURN DOWN THE HEAT
Usually, the Carons keep their thermostat at 67 degrees, Danielle said.
But “on a nice, normal day, we’ll turn it down so it (the heat) won’t kick on” to save on the bill, she said.
On especially cold days, Danielle and her daughter will use electric blankets or a space heater.
Some of their neighbors have resorted to putting plastic on their windows to add insulation to their homes, Danielle said.
“It blocks the wind out from drafts,” Richard said. “The wind, you can hear it blowing through the windows.”
The Carons hope to invest in a pellet stove in the next few years.
“They do (heat) 3,000 square feet,” Richard said, and the stoves are cost efficient.
“It’s $350 for a ton of skid.”
To supplement their kerosene heat, the Carons sometimes use their fireplace. They’ve been trying Enviro-Log Firelogs, which are composed completely of recycled materials, according to the company’s website.
Richard said it costs about $20 for a box of eight logs at stores like Wal-Mart.
With so many people living in their home, money is tight, he said, between food bills, utility costs and other living expenses.
And the family has already worked through their regular Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) benefits and started on their emergency benefits.
HUNDREDS OF CALLS
In order to qualify for fuel benefits, a family of four must make no more than $4,111 in gross income each month, said Debbie Wilcox, the HEAP coordinator at Clinton County Social Services.
On Nov. 19 of last year, the day the program began for the season, 500 phone calls came in to her office requesting fuel assistance, said Cindy Gallicchio, a senior social welfare examiner who has been working temporarily in the HEAP unit as a supervisor since September.
“I’ve not dealt with the urgency of the emergencies that we’re seeing” until she began working in the HEAP unit, Gallicchio said.
Things never seem to slow down, with at least 100 phone messages left each day for the HEAP unit, she said.
The program starts a little later every year, Wilcox said.
“I think that’s because of funding.”
FINDING A WAY
HEAP is federally funded, with the state issuing payments directly to the fuel vendors.
“We keep giving benefits until the federal government tells us we’re closed,” Wilcox said. Luckily, that’s never happened.
“They always find a way for us to pay” for heating benefits.
At least 4,000 HEAP cases are active in the county, Wilcox said. And that’s not including people who receive temporary assistance or Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) food benefits, formerly known as food stamps.
Most of the people receiving assistance through those programs get heat assistance automatically and don’t have to apply, Wilcox said.
“It all depends on your living situation.”
The county has 6,100 SNAP cases and 818 temporary-assistance cases. Temporary assistance provides cash for living expenses until people are able to find work and become self-sufficient, Wilcox explained.
FUEL RUNS OUT
A single person or family who qualify for HEAP assistance receive $600 to $650 in regular fuel assistance for the winter season based on their income, with $600 for emergency fuel costs, Wilcox said.
“That doesn’t buy you a lot of fuel,” with today’s high oil prices, she said.
Many HEAP recipients run out of fuel before the winter is over.
“A lot of people who call us say they’re completely out of fuel. We get to them as soon as we can. We try (to assist) the same day.”
Social Services employees who work on HEAP often stay late or even work on their days off to make sure nobody is left without heat overnight, Wilcox said.
“You just don’t feel comfortable going home knowing that somebody doesn’t have heat.”
And supervisors from other units assist Wilcox and Gallicchio so clients can be helped as soon as possible.
MORE NEED NOW
HEAP cases are spread throughout the county, so the Joint Council for Economic Opportunity assists Social Services by providing outreach to surrounding towns for people who don’t have transportation to Social Services’s Durkee Street Office in the City of Plattsburgh.
The economic downturn has brought more clients into Social Services asking for many kinds assistance, not just HEAP, Gallicchio said.
“We’re providing benefits and services to families that have never received them before.”
The Carons are thankful for the fuel assistance that has kept them warm as temperatures dropped to dangerous levels outside.
“I don’t know what we’d do without it,” Danielle said.
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