Even small gains in income can make households ineligible for heating assistance, which is generally available to those making up to 60 percent of a state’s median income. In Maine, for a family of four, the threshold for ongoing assistance is $59,348, though emergency aid is also available. Last winter, Ms. Blodgett said, her family received $800 from the state’s Heating and Energy Assistance Program, or HEAP; this year, with her husband making slightly more at a new job at a sawmill, they did not qualify.
Her budget has also been stretched, she said, by higher prices for groceries, gas and electricity. Her car recently required $2,200 in repairs, then her washing machine broke and had to be replaced. Most worrisome of all, an upcoming surgery, long delayed, will keep her out of work for several weeks without pay.
She is deeply grateful for the help her family received last month from a local church, Praise Assembly of God, which paid for a 50-gallon delivery of oil to their home. It had lasted for three weeks, but was nearly gone. As the tank inched closer to empty, Ms. Blodgett felt the anxiety of living so close to the edge, unable to save for the future.
“Bad things happen, but I try to have the mind-set that something good will come out of it,” she said at her kitchen table one afternoon last week, as her 11-year-old son played video games in the living room and the family’s two basset hound puppies crowded near her feet. “That doesn’t mean I don’t wish it were easier, because I do.”
Across the state, many turned to wood heat this winter to avoid the cost of oil. In the Midcoast region, north of Portland, the Waldo County Woodshed, a “wood bank” providing free firewood to people in need, has faced far greater demand than it did last year, said Bob MacGregor, who runs the volunteer operation.
By early March, the group’s supply was down to two or three cords, forcing it to limit donations to extreme cases. Another wood bank reported receiving a call from a woman who said she had been burning boards from her shed to stay warm.