Agencies Available To Help With Soaring Energy Costs

Although electric bills in Berlin have
reportedly fallen this month, a result of lower usage during cooler times, the
still high prices mean many people in Berlin,
and beyond, will have trouble paying their bills and might have to turn to
several local organizations for help.

The first stop for Berlin electric customers should be the Berlin town offices, said Sharon Timmons,

administrative assistant.

“I can tell you, I go out of my
way to work with these people,” said Timmons.

Although Berlin does not offer financial assistance
to struggling electric customers, the town does encourage people in bill
trouble to set up a payment plan.

If a customer is behind, they
must pay the past due amount in 30 days, which can be through a weekly or
biweekly arrangement. Timmons can extend that month another week if the
customer’s pay period does not coincide with the deadline.

Once the termination notice is
sent out, the customer must contact the town, Timmons stressed, and keep
current with the payment plan.

“You can come in every month
after you paid your old agreement and do a new one,” Timmons said.

Berlin also has a budget program,
which lets a customer pay the same cost every month. At the end of the year,
the customer must then pay any difference between payments remitted and actual
power costs.

Mike Beaman, a member of the
Berlin Utilities Commission (BUC), asked Timmons at a recent meeting if the
town provides tips on saving energy in the home to customers.

Berlin does not offer a printed list,
Timmons said, but she goes over changes customers can make verbally.

“I don’t mind doing it. I’m here
to help people. I’m not here to criticize,” Timmons said.

Beaman suggested printing and
providing a list of 102 ways to save that he has compiled or posting it on the
town’s website. One of the best energy conservation tips is to add a
programmable thermostat, he said.

Timmons also keeps the paperwork
for local non-profit Shore Up’s energy assistance programs at the counter for
customers and will even call Shore Up or Family Connections, a resource
referral organization, herself.

“I think that’s above and
beyond,” said BUC Chair Erik Quisgard.

Debbie Dotson, Family
Connections program director, said, “We see a lot of utility bills. That’s a
major issue, it’s not just in Berlin.”

Family Connections is part of
the Worcester Youth and Family Services and acts as a resource and referral
agency. The program screens clients and then works directly with non-profit
organizations and faith-based communities to secure services.

“We’ve definitely seen an
increase, given the economy, and we’re at the end of the season so jobs get a
little more hard to find,” Dotson said.

For electric bill troubles, Dotson
advised contacting Shore-Up at 410-632-2075, Urban Ministries in Salisbury at 410-749-1563
or Joseph House at 410-749-4239. Some churches also assist with electric bills.

Shore-Up is Dotson’s go-to
program for several types of assistance.

“Everybody gets referred to
Shore-Up,” Dotson said.

Shore-Up is a local agency that
administers a variety of state programs.

The state of Maryland Electric
Universal Service Program provides funds to pay past due bills, while the
Maryland Energy Assistance Program helps with heating bills.

The state also offers
weatherization programs, which could pay for added insulation, or furnace

Teneka Williams of the Worcester
County Shore-Up office explained that applicants should mail in a completed
application, which is available from her office, the Health Department, and
Family Connections. People can call her office to have an application mailed

Applicants must provide proof of
income in the past 30 days. Shore-Up has by law 45 days to process an

Applicants must either continue
to pay their electric bill or make arrangements with their electric provider
until Shore-Up finishes its process. Williams advised people to communicate
with their electric provider.

“We cannot stop an electric
bill,” Williams said.

If someone’s electric service
has already been cut off for non-payment, they can seek help from Shore-Up, but
must go into the office in person for an intake process, Williams said.

People may only receive help
through the state electric bill programs once a year, according to Williams.

“I’m getting a lot of new
applicants this year, compared to last year,” said Williams. “I think this year
is going to double because of gas prices going up.”