Needy Vermonters struggle to keep the heat on - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Needy Vermonters struggle to keep the heat on

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As temperatures continue to drop, many Vermonters are cranking up their heat to stay warm. But some simply don't have that option. With temperatures dropping below zero, the Crisis Fuel Assistance program has come to the rescue for many in need.

"The crisis fuel help is being a salvation for me," said Norma Kent of Jericho.

Kent is in the same situation as many Vermonters who have come to the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity. The program is designed to assist families who had their heat turned off or are about to. Already this week, the Crisis Fuel program has helped 400 families.

"Our simple goal is always the same, we don't want anyone in Vermont to freeze," said Travis Poulin of CVOEO. "A lot of the time it's not a budgeting problem, it's a poverty problem. People just don't have enough money to cover all their bills."

The program isn't only for families with low incomes; it also assists the elderly and disabled. Despite working until she was 72-years-old, extensive medical bills have left Kent unable to survive on her own.

"Trying to keep up the fuel for the hot water, the electricity and for all the machinery; it's hard, really hard," she said.

The state of Vermont in October responded to a cut in federal funding by pumping an additional $8.8 million into the program. But with extremely low temperatures and increasing number of families in need, CVOEO isn't sure how long the aid can last.

"The Crisis Fuel program is a finite amount of money," Poulin said. "We start the year off with a certain amount money, and as we spend it down we keep watching those dollars tick down. The families don't stop coming in because the need is great. The need is out there."

Back in Jericho, Kent is grateful for the help.

"If it wasn't for the crisis fuel, you know, I really don't know what I would have done," she said.

Kent hopes she won't need it again this winter.

Programs like WARMTH are attempting to keep the promise that no Vermonter will freeze. WARMTH is private organization that partners with utilities to raise money for the crisis fuel program. Since October, WARMTH has raised over $100,000.

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