Overwhelmed by requests, Operation Fuel is pausing applications for heating assistance until April 3, and cutting back its grants from $1,000 to $500 to try to get aid to more people amid high heating costs this winter.
Founded in response to the 1979 oil crisis, Operation Fuel is meant to fill the gap for people who don’t qualify for low-income state heating assistance, but still can’t afford heating bills – offering grants to cover heating fuel and electric bills for people making between 60 percent of the state median income and the median [between $76,465 and $127,443 for a family of four].
With heating prices skyrocketing this winter, Operation Fuel Executive Director Brenda Watson said the organization is seeing double the number of applications it received last year, overwhelming its small staff.
She said they need to pause applications through March to work through a backlog, so they can be ready for the surge in applications they typically see before the winter moratorium on utility shut-offs for low-income customers ends on May 1.
Operation Fuel has issued about 6,000 grants for assistance since opening applications in July, and Watson said they have a backlog of about 3,000 applications to work through. The pause will help them process those applications, and also potentially train temporary workers to help process applications when they reopen on April 3.
“We’re seeing double the amount of households that we would normally see, and it’s really quite overwhelming for the team,” Watson said.
The nonprofit had temporarily doubled its grant amounts from $500 to $1,000, but Watson said they need to go back to $500 because the demand is so high and they want to be able to help more people.
“This problem is so much bigger than Operation Fuel,” Watson said. “We do our best to catch people when they call, but we’ll never have the resources to fill the gap – I mean there are 400,000 households that struggle with basic needs.”