On all sides, I hear the same depressing story. Oil is so expensive, gas isn’t much better and the cost of electricity is on the increase. And what about wood? People who burn wood are paying more, too, unless they’re lucky enough to own a wood lot and young enough to manage it. Staying warm this winter is more of a challenge than ever before.

The problem is immediate and isn’t easy to solve: What do people do if they just don’t have enough income to cover all expenses in a winter where fuel costs are escalating? By the time we reach the golden years, we know about insulation, door stops, cutting back on the thermostat, wearing extra sweaters. We’ve learned the energy-saving methods the hard way and we utilize all of them.

Then what? Ask for help. For most people in my generation, this will mean swallowing their pride and asking or applying for help. My late father always said you couldn’t eat pride. He was right. Pride doesn’t keep you warm or healthy, either.

For those who are not living in subsidized housing, there are at least two fuel assistance programs available (LIHEAP and Citizens Energy).

Citizen’s Energy Oil Heat Program, based in Massachusetts, has been providing fuel assistance for a number of years. For some who do not qualify for LIHEAP, or HEAP (the Federal program) Citizens Energy may be a solution. Their Web site gives this information:

Beginning Dec. 3, families who need heating assistance can call the Citizens Energy Oil Heat Program’s toll-free hotline, 877-JOE-4-OIL (877-563-4645) or apply online to complete an application. Citizens will notify households/families via mail on their application status. Qualified families will receive a one-time delivery of up to 100 gallons of heating oil. To receive a delivery during the 2007-2008 winter season, Citizens Energy must receive all applications and requests for processing by Feb. 29, 2008.

LIHEAP, or HEAP, is a Federal program and the Web site (and that of Maine State Housing) contains this information. Peoples Regional Opportunity (PROP), Portland, is the administrating agency for LIHEAP assistance in Cumberland County.

PROP offers several programs to help with heating improvements and costs for those families that meet income eligibility requirements. For some programs, families with children under 24 months or with members who are elderly or disabled are given priority when applying.

HEAP (Home Energy Assistance Program)

For homeowners or renters who have high heating bills in relation to their income. HEAP benefits households by making a supplemental payment on their behalf directly to their fuel vendor, whether the fuel is oil, electricity, coal, gas, or wood. To apply, call 842-2988 ext. 21. For this program, if your household includes seniors age 60 or above, your income is required to fall within 170 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines ($17,257 for one person, $23,273 for two.

ELP (Electricity Lifeline Program)

Central Maine Power customers who don’t live in subsidized housing may apply for ELP, through which CMP will provide an energy credit on a household’s monthly electric bill. To apply, call 842-2988 Ext. 21.

ECIP (Energy Crisis Intervention Program)

This program may provide emergency assistance funds to homeowners and renters when no other funding sources are available. Assistance might be fuel delivery, minor heating system repairs, or preventing a utility disconnection. Funds are not always available. To apply, call 842-2988 Ext. 21.

CHIP (Central Heating Improvement Program)

This program provides funds for repair and/or replacement of central heating systems that are inefficient or threaten occupants’ health or safety. To apply, call 842-2988 ext. 29

Above Ground and Underground Oil Tank Programs

In partnership with the Dept. of Environmental Protection, PROP offers these programs to replace leaking and unsafe fuel tanks located either above ground or underground. Call 842-2988 Ext. 29 for more information.

Central Maine Power Assistance Credit

This program allows Central Maine Power to provide assistance credit for new single-phase electric services. Income eligible homeowners buying a new home that requires a new electric service may apply. Central Maine Power will provide a credit to reduce the cost of installing poles and wiring to connect to Central Maine Power’s distribution line. For eligibility and more information, call Susan Joyce at 842-2988 Ext. 25.

Lifeline Telephone Assistance is available to families receiving AFDC/TANF, Social Security, food stamps, fuel assistance or Medicaid. The benefits are determined by The Telephone Association of Maine and appear as a credit on the recipient’s monthly telephone bills. To apply, call 874-1140, Ext. 326.