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Heating aid up slightly in Coos, Carroll, Grafton counties

Special to the Union Leader

January 04. 2013 12:26AM

BERLIN - The financial challenges at the Tri-County Community Action Program offices in Berlin won't affect the fuel assistance program.

So far this year, the client list is almost 6,700, with Tri-County CAP's allocation set at $5.4 million, officials said.

In the 2011-2012 heating season, Tri-County CAP provided help to 9,000 clients through the New Hampshire Fuel Assistance program, paying out about $5.3 million to vendors and utilities on behalf of residents in Coos, Carroll and Grafton counties.

CAP is dealing with a cash flow crunch, and in December the court appointed a special trustee to oversee the organization, at the request of the Attorney General's Office's Charitable Trust Unit.

Peter Higbee, chief operations officer, said Thursday the organization gets an advance on fuel assistance funds, which weren't used solely for that purpose. Some of those funds were "borrowed" from "Peter to pay Paul " before the special trustee stepped in, he said.

CAP, Higbee said, is trying to get an accurate accounting of its programs and services, and do strategic cuts as it rights the ship.

He said the organization had taken on a lot of tasks "out of the kindness of our hearts," but will have to be more careful about what it agrees to do in the future.

News of the financial troubles has not affected the number of applications for assistance.

"We're very, very busy this time of year," Kathleen McCosh, CAP energy and housing program manager, said.

Benefit payments go directly to vendors, with fuel and utility companies receiving letters of credit on behalf of clients, then billing CAP when clients use those credits.

The maximum income eligibility for this heating season is 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, or $3,789 a month for a four-person household and $1,836 a month for a single person. Benefits range from $120 to $975, with an average benefit of $500.

If funds are still available as the season progresses, income cutoffs may be raised, with a four-person household with an annual income up to $55,330 eligible for aid.

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Sara Young-Knox may be reached at syoungknox@newstote.com.

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