It's hard times at the Harford Interfaith Community Service offices in Bel Air these days, as volunteers watch their fund to help indigent residents with electricity and heating bills dissipate quickly thiswinter.
The recession has hit so many people in the county that more than ever are turning for help to the non-profit group.
Volunteers fear the group's fuel fund may run out of money soon, resulting in people who can't pay their heat and electricity bills having power shut off. The group's fuel fund helps pays electric and power bills for residents who are not eligible or who are not receivingenough aid from other social programs.
The Harford Interfaith Community Service said money for one of its three programs assisting theneedy -- the fuel fund -- will probably run out by early March.
"I'm crying for contributions," said Teresa L. Boyer, executive director.
"I can't take any more appointments after March 4, and we're going to see a lot of people losing power."
Because of an increase in those requesting help, the $50,000 fund, made up of private donations and $20,000 in credits from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., is almost all spent, Boyer said.
She blamed the situation on the depressed economy, which has spawned a more than an increase in the number of people applying for aid from the fund.
Last year 400 people received assistance from Harford Interfaith's fuel fund. Boyer said thatclose to 500 applied during January, February, and March. In all, more than 800 are expected to apply for fuel assistance this year, Boyer said.
A BG&E spokesman said that while the utility does cut power off for nonpayment, the utility first notifies the customer of the impending action and must also file an affidavit with the state Public Service Commission, which regulates the utility.
Power is not shut off if the customer can prove health problems or has young children or if weather is below freezing.
Angela Perkins, 22, of Havre deGrace and Julie Wilson, 19, a single mother from Edgewood, were two of about 50 residents who received help last week with their utility bills from the organization.
"I thought they were going to give methe runaround," said Perkins, who was at Harford Interfaith's Bel Air office Wednesday.
Perkins will be receiving some financial assistance from another program administered by HICS, the Maryland Energy Assistance Program. That program provides federal money to help pay electric bills for low-income residents.
Perkins said she quit her full-time job at an Aberdeen motel so that she could attend a child care provider program at the YMCA. She said she plans to get a part time job to help her pay her bills. But in the meantime, she said, she will need help making payments.
As for Wilson, who has a 10-month-old son, she is receiving financial assistance from Social Services.
However, she said it is not enough to meet her monthly housing expenses, $420 a month rent and about $80 for power.
Wilson said she ran into trouble financially when she lost her job in October. She was working in the Hunt Valley Mall as a store manager.
Boyer said most clients receive enough aid from the Maryland Assistance Program.
She said the number of families receiving aid this year from the fuel fund and Maryland Assistance Program has increased.
Last year,by the end of March Harford Interfaith helped about 2,700 families. So far this year, they have already seen 2,700 clients. An additional230 families are scheduled to receive aid.
In order to be eligible to receive help from the Maryland Assistance Program, a family of two has to have earned less than $370 a month. A family of eight wouldhave to have earned less than $840 a month.
Boyer said HICS administrative costs are covered by a a $15,000 annual county grant and a$15,000 state grant.
FUEL FUND HELP
Donations should be sent to theHarford Fuel Fund, 21 North Bond St, Bel Air 21014.
Anyone needing assistance in paying their power bills can call HICS at 838-6000, Ext. 24