PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Maine is mailing the first of its energy cost relief payments to residents during a week when temperatures are expected to plummet as low as negative 14 degrees.
The Maine Legislature approved $450 relief checks, a proposal offered by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, for residents to help with the surging cost of winter heating. Mills said the first 5,000 of the checks went out on Monday, and 200,000 will be mailed per week after that.
Most Maine residents will receive the checks by the end of March, Mills said. The checks are going to full-time residents who make less than $100,000 per year, or $200,000 per year if filing jointly.
The aid is arriving as the state is set to experience its first major cold spell of a mostly mild winter. Forecasts call for temperatures to dive around midweek and fall below negative 10 degrees on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the cost of heating oil has doubled over the past two years in a state heavily dependent on fossil fuels.
“High energy prices have made staying warm more difficult for Maine families this winter," Mills said. ““Beginning next week, Maine people will start to receive their $450 relief payment to help ease the burden of increased energy costs.”
State leaders have encouraged residents to take advantage of heating assistance this year. The Legislature has approved $40 million for the Home Energy Assistance Program and $10 million for community action agencies to help with emergency fuel assistance, said Megan Hannan, executive director of the Maine Community Action Partnership.
Municipalities are also offering heating assistance via public money and private donations, officials with Maine Community Action Partnership said. Cumberland County has appropriated $1.35 million in federal money to help town governments aid residents, they said.
“These funds were designed for households who don’t normally qualify for heating aid, but are still having trouble making ends meet in this environment," county manager Jim Gailey said.
The $450 checks are going out automatically, and residents do not need to take action to make sure they receive them.