BERLIN – The staggering economy coupled with an unusually harsh winter could soon leave many Berlin families out in the cold, with hundred of electric service cut-off notices ready to be sent out.
In December, Governor Martin O’Malley, along with Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin. announced $110 million in federal funding earmarked to help those struggling to pay their energy bills this winter, and just yesterday, O’Malley said in his State of the State address there was a measure in the General Assembly that could provide a record $132 million in state funding for the same purpose. Thus far, however, the funds have not fulfilled their promise as thousands in the area, including as many as 800 families in Berlin alone, are facing electric service cut-offs.
According to Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services Director Teresa Fields, the number of families seeking energy assistance this winter has gone up dramatically. Unfortunately, state and federal funds earmarked to help is not finding their way to those in need.
“There has been very little luck in accessing the funds at all,” she said. “It’s certainly not trickling down to the families that need it the most. We work with a lot of families in Worcester County and Berlin and there are hundreds facing cut-offs. It’s a bad situation.”
Fields said this week the town of Berlin was prepared to send out as many as 800 cut-off notices, but under the circumstances, town officials have backed off on the proposal. Administrative Director Tony Carson said yesterday the town was moving forward with water service cut-offs, but had pushed back electric service cut-offs for as long as 90 days to allow affected families to try to catch up.
“We have sent out shut-off notices for residential water, but not electric,” he said. “We sent notices out and put out hang-tags and, fortunately, we’ve gotten a good response. A large percentage have come in and paid, or made arrangements to pay.”
Carson said electric cut-offs have been suspended in many cases, but the move might only be temporary.
“In the next 45 days or so, we will likely send out shut-off notices on some accounts,” he said. “We make every effort to help them utilize the resources that are available to them, but, unfortunately, there will likely be some cut-offs.”
Carson said the town understands the plight for many families, but may be left with no choice.
“We obviously have to be very compassionate as you can imagine, but the numbers are very high,” he said. “Cut-offs are a measure of last resort, but at the end of the day, we still have an obligation to the ratepayers and the town of Berlin and anything we don’t collect falls back on them.”