Anyone who’s spent a winter in Maine knows we’re in a constant battle with the elements. But for many Mainers, winter is also a time of major financial stress due to the cost of heating our homes.

Last winter, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, prices for home heating oil and propane were at their lowest in eight years due to lower demand for petroleum products. It was a relief for many families who faced financial difficulties during this time. But experts say that demand has rebounded, and with a colder winter predicted for 2021-22, the prices are spiking. The federal Energy Information Administration projects that the cost per gallon of heating oil, natural gas, and propane will rise by as much as 43 percent, 30 percent, and 54 percent, respectively.

So how can Mainers afford to heat their homes this winter?

MaineHousing’s Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP)

MaineHousing offers the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), which offsets a portion of heating costs for Maine homeowners and renters. Benefits include help paying for fuel and emergency fuel delivery, as well as energy-related repairs. Eligibility depends on household size, income, and energy costs.

MaineHousing and other local agencies have $70 million available to support Maine families this winter. HEAP, though well-established, frequently goes unused.

“Only 20 to 25% of income-eligible households actually reach out and apply for the heating assistance program,” said MaineHousing Director Dan Brennan. “That’s only a quarter of people who are eligible. So people in Maine, our folks are proud and they don’t want to ask for help. They think that, you know, their neighbor needs it more than I do. There’s plenty of money. We have a lot of money available. We’re not going to run out. Please apply.”

Applications for HEAP are currently open. To see if you qualify and apply for the program, contact your local Community Action Agency (CAA).

2021 State Initiatives

In addition to the resources available through MaineHousing, Governor Mills has announced that the state will invest nearly $30 million in federal funding in heating assistance through the Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan. This money will be used in part to help low- and moderate-income families weatherize their homes through Efficiency Maine, adding insulation to help keep heat in and use less energy. $5.5 million will also be used to train people for jobs in the growing clean energy sector.

“Right now, Maine is the most heating oil-dependent state in the nation, something that our environment and Maine people pay the price for every time they go to turn up their thermostat. But it’s also something we can change,” said Governor Mills when announcing the planned investment. “Making homes and businesses more energy-efficient through weatherization cuts down on our use of harmful fossil fuels, protects our environment, and saves people money. Through the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan, we will expand incentives to help people weatherize their homes and keep more of their hard-earned money, and we will train more Maine people to work in our growing clean energy sector, creating new green jobs and strengthening our economy.”

Energy Office Resource Guide

The Governor’s Energy Office has published a tips and resources guide designed to help Mainers ensure their heating system is efficient and get assistance if needed. Tips include scheduling annual system maintenance, asking your fuel provider about locking in a price for the winter, and scheduling automatic delivery to avoid emergency fueling.

The guide, as well as additional winter energy resources information, can be found here.

A rise in heating costs does not mean anyone has to freeze. There are programs and funds available to ensure that every Mainer stays warm this winter.

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The Commission on Paid Family and Medical Leave is in the midst of crafting its recommendations for Maine’s statewide Paid Family and Medical Leave Program. What can we expect that program to entail?

Last month, the Maine Paid Leave Coalition put forth its suggestions in a letter to the Commission, urging a comprehensive, universal approach to this much-needed policy. The Maine Paid Leave Coalition represents tens of thousands of Mainers among its organizations, including Mainers For Working Families, the Maine Women’s Lobby, the Maine People’s Alliance, Maine Center for Economic Policy, and Planned Parenthood.

Among the Coalition’s recommendations to the Commission on Paid Family and Medical Leave:

  • A Universal Approach: For a Paid Family and Medical Leave policy to work in Maine, it must work for all Mainers. Regardless of gender, occupation, or family structure, every Mainer should have the opportunity to access paid leave. This leave should cover a variety of situations: leave for bonding with and caring for a new child, caring for a sick family member, addressing one’s own serious medical and mental health needs, and preparation and reintegration following military deployment.

  • Job and Wage Security: Too many Americans come back from a leave of absence to find that they have lost the job they once had. Others taking leave don’t receive enough in replacement wages to cover their basic needs. No Mainer should have to choose between losing their income and taking care of themselves or their loved ones.

  • 100% Public: Maine’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program should be administered exclusively by the State, with no private involvement from third parties or non-profits.

  • Social Insurance: Just as every working Mainer should be able to take advantage of Paid Family and Medical Leave, every working Mainer should pay into the system to apply it effectively. It’s the same logic behind Social Security: employers and employees pay a small tax in order to access benefits in retirement.

You can read the Coalition’s full letter here.

Every single one of us has faced or will face a time when we need to take time off from work to care for ourselves or our loved ones. Nobody should have to choose between using leave and keeping their job to meet their basic needs. Mainers deserve a comprehensive, easily accessible Paid Family and Medical Leave program that benefits our families, our small businesses, and our communities.

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Among the many fragile systems exposed by the pandemic was a lack of job security for scores of American workers. In higher education alone, over 260,000 college and university employees lost their jobs in the wake of COVID-19. Those who remained were stretched beyond their capacity and at the highest risk of contracting and dying from the virus. All of this for, in many cases, less than a living wage.

Bates College staff and faculty have had enough. Back in October, organizers began a campaign to unionize 650 college employees who aren't campus safety officers, tenured or tenure-track faculty, or management. The new union would be called the Bates Educators & Staff Organization (BESO) and serve as a member organization of MESA-SEIU Local 1989.

Sign our petition in support of the Bates Educators & Staff Organization.

“Our mission is to build a strong, unified voice to improve labor conditions at the college and champion the social, economic, physical, and mental well-being of all Bates employees, especially the most under-compensated and vulnerable among us,” organizers said in a statement.

“Over the past year, too many of our coworkers have left due to dissatisfaction, low pay, and poor working conditions at the college. Losing so much talent and expertise has added more work for those of us who remain, diminishing our capacity to provide quality learning and living conditions for our students."

While most colleges and universities with unionizing employees remain neutral throughout the organizing process, Bates College leadership and administrators have deliberately engaged in union-busting activities and suppression of free speech.

College management communicated with anti-union labor consultants, and College President Clayton Spencer released a public statement effectively opposing the unionization effort. Management has intimidated those seeking to unionize by telling organizers they could not communicate about unionizing with other members during work time or use work WiFi to communicate around organizing. Organizers say the college is also restricting union solicitation on work time, even though it has allowed other forms of solicitation on work time, such as signing petitions or selling Girl Scout cookies. Several staff members were also told that they could potentially lose benefits if a union is approved, in violation of labor law. Organizers have now filed charges against the College for unfair restrictions on organizing.

Despite the institutional resistance, organizers are getting widespread support. Students have drawn pro-union messages in chalk across campus. Several state legislators have voiced their support for the union. And Bates alum Jared Golden released a statement supporting organizers and urging College management to remain neutral.

Mainers for Working Families firmly supports the Bates Educators & Staff Organization. Every worker is first and foremost a human being deserving of respect and fair working conditions. When these are not present, we have the right to organize and demand better for ourselves.

Show your support for unionization at Bates College.

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