Don't wait, seek fuel assistance now

The TV weather forecasters took delight this week in reminding viewers that last Monday, Dec. 1 marks the beginning of "meteorological winter." Last weekend's driving rain, and Monday's mild temperatures may have been enough to make one think that global warming might not be so bad after all. The 60 degree temps Monday afternoon made it seem more like the beginning of spring than winter - yet those video shots of beachfront homes up on the north shore cascading into the ocean serves as a reminder that Mother Nature will do what she will do, without regard to any man-made calendar.

With the winter solstice still 18 days away, we can expect a return this weekend to what is termed "seasonal" conditions. In short, the cold weather is here, and it can be expected to settle in for the long haul.

So now here we are, officially in the heating season, and despite the recent drop in the cost of a barrel of oil - remarkably, it's now under the $50 mark, we are told - the complicating factor for all of us is the emergence of some bad economic times. Government economists said on Monday the country is now officially in a recession and has been for the past year. Unemployment is on the rise, and likely to worsen after Christmas, and people everywhere must struggle to adjust their priorities. For many of our neighbors, there will not be enough money available this year to heat their homes.

But there is help available to meet heating costs and the time to apply is here. ABCD, the city's official anti-poverty agency, announced this week the beginning of the enrollment period for fuel assistance. The agency says that, because more people are now eligible, and demand is up, first time applicants and others are urged to apply now. The agency says it is accepting applications weekdays at local neighborhood offices, and beginning this weekend at its downtown office at 178 Tremont St. on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

"Due to increased federal and state funding and broadened eligibility, the program can now serve more moderate-income families than in past years," ABCD officials said in a news release. "This year a family of four with an income of $53,608 is eligible for some assistance meeting their heating needs. The highest fuel assistance benefit is $1,305."

ABCD President and CEO Bob Coard urged those who think they might be eligible to get their applications in as soon as possible, before the worst of frigid winter weather hits. "Apply today," he said. "With the economy down and jobs and housing at risk, people need to make use of every resource."

ABCD's neighborhood service centers (NSC) in Dorchester, at 110 Claybourne St., and in Mattapan Square at 535 River St. are serving as intake centers during the weekday business hours. The agency says that soon fuel assistance hours will be extended for evening and weekends at both sites, and also in other neighborhood sites throughout the city. For more information, residents are urged to call 617-357-6012, or go online at bostonabcd.org. ABCD provides fuel assistance and energy conservation services to low and moderate-income working families and seniors in Boston, Brookline and Newton. Payments are made directly to fuel vendors, whether oil, gas or electric.

This is a government-sponsored program that works, yet too many people do not take advantage of it until the funds are exhausted. We encourage our readers to act now, and get ready for the cold days ahead.