As energy prices continue to rise, Michael, a 38-year-old Carroll County mason, awaits word on his application for a state grant to help pay his home heating costs.
"This is the first time I have ever applied for this program," the Westminster resident said of the Maryland Energy Assistance Program. "A friend of mine used it last year and told me about it, and I thought it was a worth a try."
MEAP is a federally financed program that provides money to help families pay their heating bills.
"I think this is a great idea, because the money I can save from this type of benefit would help me have extra money to put toward other things, like winter coats for my two boys," said Michael, who asked that his last name not be used. "They are 6 and 9, and both in elementary school here in Westminster. This would be a great help."
Michael is hoping his family will be one of about 1,400 in Carroll to receive a grant this year from the $329,000 that will be available for energy assistance.
"This year, we are looking to help 1,400 families with an average benefit of $235 per household," said Kelly Parrish, MEAP program director. "Right now, we have 850 applications which need to be certified to determine eligibility."
Family income, size of household and the type of heat used in the home are three factors used to figure the amount of the grant.
Once the grant is awarded, the one-time benefit is paid directly to the utility or fuel company, and the household's account is credited with the amount.
Last year, $450,000 was distributed to 1,505 Carroll families, with an average grant of $299 per household.
Since the program began almost 13 years ago, about 60 percent of those receiving assistance have been senior citizens.
That figure dropped to about 45 percent during the past year, Parrish said, indicating that more younger people are applying.
"I think we can attribute that to a lot of people being out of work and on unemployment. And it was the first time we received their applications for assistance,"Parrish said.
It was a relief to Anna, a 78-year-old Westminster resident, to receive help with her heating bills.
"I received assistance last year, and I have applied for help again this year," she said. "It was a big help to me, especially since one month last winterI had a $100 charge to heat my apartment."
Parrish estimates thatthis year, more than 800 applicants will be senior citizens who haveused the program before.
In 1991, 50 percent of the grants went toward electric bills, 27 percent for fuel oil bills, and 11 percent for natural gas, with the remaining 9 percent split between kerosene, propane, coal and wood.
"Last year, with the fuel prices being higher, we needed more money per household," Parrish said. "This year, with the number of people that are out of work, we want more money so that we can cover more households."
MEAP began accepting applications on Oct. 1 and will continue to do so until March 31.
To qualify, the maximum monthly gross income per household is: one person, $828; two people, $1,110; three people, $1,393; four people, $1,675; five people, $1,958; six people, $2,240.
Applications may be made in person at the Maryland Energy Assistance Program at Human Services Program Inc., 10 Distillery Drive in Westminster.
People of all agesmay apply and need not be receiving other type of public aid to qualify.
New applicants may sign up in person or call 857-2999 to request an appointment.
Repeat clients may mail their applications to:MEAP, P.O. Box 489, Westminster, Md., 21158.