Editorial: Averting a Quiet Crisis (Valley News)

An Upper Valley Focus on Fuel Aid

Lovely as it was, Labor Day weekend served its annual notice that summer's lease has all too short a date and that winter will be moving in soon. While it's impossible to predict how severe the frozen future will be, one thing does seem clear: The high price of heating oil threatens to create a financial crisis for many households in the Upper Valley and across New England. And a heating-oil crisis, though less dramatic than a hurricane or a flood or a wildfire, carries with it the same potential for disastrous consequences.

To their great credit, a coalition of 20 nonprofit agencies in the Upper Valley has recognized the severity of the situation and is taking steps to contain it, as staff writer Erin Hanrahan reported in the Sunday Valley News.

Not all of these agencies are in the business of providing fuel aid, but they know that the high price of heating a home can have a direct impact on a household's ability to clothe and feed its members, to obtain other necessities like prescription drugs and even to keep a roof over its head. That, in turn, can put stress on the ability of social service providers across the board to meet the needs of not only the poor and the elderly, but also of working people who are just above the income thresholds that would qualify them for government assistance. Thus, the coalition includes many kinds of service organizations, including health care providers and housing agencies, faith-based groups and those that run meals programs.

Especially encouraging is the recent announcement by the Upper Valley United Way of an effort to raise $200,000 for a new Winter Assistance Resource Management Fund that will be used to help weatherize homes, educate consumers and pay for fuel, all through the efforts of area organizations such as Listen Community Services, COVER and Tri-County Community Action Program. Although direct fuel aid to low-income households is vital, the coalition is also focusing on the imperative of helping people heat their homes more efficiently and safely.

Upper Valley United Way Executive Director Julia Hadlock likened the fuel-aid fund to initiatives made after the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina. "It is a crisis," she told Hanrahan. "It is a similar strategy." This initiative has the advantage of being out in front of an impending crisis.

Donors to the annual United Way campaign will have an opportunity to contribute to the WARM Fund by checking a box on their pledge forms. Although fuel bills are likely to pinch many a household budget this fall and winter, we urge all those who can manage to do so to support initiatives such as this one and to bear in mind that the need for social services of all kinds will be great in the midst of an economic downturn and an era of high oil prices. In New England, warmth is every bit as essential as food and shelter, and individual generosity is one way to take the chill out of winter.