Thanks to a threefold increase in federal funding, Maryland's Office of Home Energy Programs expects to help 10,000 more low-income households with heat and electricity bills this year.
Congress appropriated about $110 million to assist state residents whose income falls under 175 percent of the federal poverty income level - up to $18,200 for a single person or $37,100 for a family of four.
During the past fiscal year, the Maryland Home Energy Program aid reached about 93,000 households but ran out of its $35 million allocation in the beginning of March. State Department of Human Resources officials project delivering benefits to more than 102,000 this year. But that's still only about a third of the estimated number of households that are eligible for such assistance, said Brian Wilbon, deputy secretary for operations.
Gov. Martin O'Malley, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski announced the increased allocation yesterday at the Waxter Center for Senior Citizens in Mount Vernon to encourage more people to apply, particularly before unpaid bills pile up.
"If you're having trouble, don't wait until you get a cut-off notice, until the gas and electricity is shut off," Mikulski said. "Don't stay in the dark and don't stay in the cold."
To apply for assistance, call 800-352-1446, or go to www.dhr.state.md.us/meap or www.problemsolver. maryland.gov.