With summer behind us and fall firmly set in, we’re preparing our homes for the winter months and colder weather. Checking windows and doors for drafts, cleaning chimneys, stacking wood and pulling out heavy blankets are all common chores around Maine homes this time of year. While many Mainers pride themselves on going as long as possible before turning on the heat, I firmly believe that no one should have to suffer from a cold home throughout the winter.

This winter is predicted to be particularly cold, due to the climate condition known as La Nina. Combined with ongoing economic hardships, some families may face even more difficulty paying to heat their homes. Thankfully, help is available.

You may be familiar with the Home Energy Assistance Program, better known as HEAP. This is a program that’s funded at the federal level and administered at the state and local level. Qualifying homeowners and renters can get financial assistance paying heating bills. Here in Sagadahoc County, HEAP is administered through Kennebec Valley Action Program. KVCAP can also help people who qualify for HEAP make sure their home is energy efficient by installing or improving weather stripping, caulking and insulation. Once a season, you might also qualify for emergency heating assistance. The Energy Crisis Intervention Program is available to qualifying people November through April. You can learn more about or apply for any of these incredible programs by calling KVCAP at (207) 859-1500 or toll free 1-800-542-8227 ext. 1500, or by emailing [email protected]. Midcoast Maine Community Action can also help with emergency heating; they can be reached at (207) 442-7963 or [email protected].

In weather emergencies, there are also warming centers around Sagadahoc County that offer a place to warm up. Shelters, libraries and churches often host warming centers, and offer snacks and warm drinks, and sometimes hats, mittens and scarves for those in need. To find programs or centers closer to your home, you can call 211, text your zip code to 898-211 or go to 211maine.org.

There are other basic safety tips we can all follow to keep our homes safe and warm this winter. First, be sure to check the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. If you need new ones, reach out to your local fire department — many are able to give free detectors to homes in need. If you use a space heater, make sure it’s in good working condition (older models with bad wiring can be a fire hazard); never leave them running unattended and don’t plug them in using extension cord. If you have a generator for power outages, be sure to keep it outside in a well-ventilated area. Never use a generator inside, such as in a basement. Sadly, we see deaths every year caused by generators being used inside homes or in poorly ventilated areas.

As always, please also remember to check in on your neighbors, especially those who are older or might have trouble getting around. Winters in Maine can be dangerous and isolating for many people. I know Maine people are so good about looking out for each other. Reach out if you need help, and offer a helping hand if you can — whether that’s helping to shovel snow from a driveway, knitting hats and mittens for people who need it, donating to a local food pantry or just inviting a neighbor over to share a warm meal.

If you have any questions about the programs I mentioned above, or other state matters, please feel free to call my office at 287-1515 or email me at [email protected].

Eloise Vitelli is a state senator representing District 23, consisting of Arrowsic, Bath, Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Dresden, Georgetown, Phippsburg, Richmond, Topsham, West Bath, Woolwich and the unorganized township of Perkins.

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