The Republican by George Graham SPRINGFIELD - City Native Pia Hall, and her family face a warmer and healthier winter thanks to a natural gas heat assistance program. The Citizens Energy/Distrigas Heat Assistance Program provides $150 credit for a natural gas bill to eligible households. To qualify, those in the household cannot be eligible for federal fuel aid, but earn less than 60 percent of the median income of have exhausted their annual benefit. “This $150 is literally going to be the difference in keeping my mom and daughter warm and healthy or going cold,” said Hall, who lives on Grenada Terrace. “I am just so grateful for the help.” Citizens Energy Chairman Joseph P. Kennedy II came yesterday to announce the continuation of the program, which is fueled by $1 million each year from Distrigas. Kennedy and others announced the funding during a press conference in front of Hall’s home. Kennedy, accompanied by Mayor Domenic J. Sarno and Clay Harris, chief executive office of Distrigas, spoke of the rising cost of oil, which this week was hovering around the $100-a-barrel mark. Attending was U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield. The price of natural gas, meanwhile, has increased 80 percent during the last five years. “There is absolutely no way that poor people can keep up with that,” Kennedy said. Sarno commented on the biting wind outside Hall’s home and asked those present to think on what it might be like in a house with no heat on a cold winter day. “This is extremely important,” Sarno said of the program. Since the program was launched in 2005, thousands of Massachusetts households have used it. In Western Massachusetts, payments are made on behalf of customers of Baystate Gas, Berkshire Gas, Holyoke Gas & Electric, Westfield Gas & Electric and other companies. This year, some 6,000 households across the state are expected to benefit. For more information, call 1-866-GAS-9918. Kennedy, asked at the end of the conference about Citizens Energy and its acceptance of oil from Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, said it was the moral thing to do. “At the end of the day we are just trying to help people,” Kennedy said. Kennedy added that critics should hold others to the same standard. “Why am I called upon to defend Hugo Chavez, but Exxon isn’t called upon to defend Saudi Arabia?” Springfield residents obtain fuel assistance through the New England Farm Workers Council. Mary Ann Kobylianski, program director, said the council, which oversees the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, currently has 9,310 applicants and will probably have upwards of 11,000 participants before the season is over. Participants receive a tank of oil through the program and an extra 100 gallons was recently added, Kobylianski said. The remainder of Hampden County is handled by the Valley Opportunity Council which will have 13,000 participants by the end of the season, Gail Piscane, director of energy programs said. “We are expecting to see not a huge increase over last year, but a significant increase over last year,” Piscane said.
$1 Million Goes to Heat Homes