Low-income Islanders who cannot afford to fill their oil tanks in the wake of frigid sub-zero temperatures will have to wait another two weeks for help from the Salvation Army.
The home heating assistance program, which offers a one-time furnace oil fillup for those in urgent need situations, will again be offered this year.
But despite the current freezing winter temperatures and a three-cent hike in oil prices on Jan. 1, the program will not begin until Jan. 14 or 15.
Capt. Jamie Locke of the Salvation Army in Charlottetown said Thursday a deal was only finalized between provincial officials and the Salvation Army to re-offer the program on Wednesday.
The province will be providing $121,200 for the program this year. That’s down close to $4,000 from last year’s provincial contribution of $125,000.
Locke says while the Salvation Army is pleased the program will continue this year, the dollar amount being offered will not last long.
“It doesn’t take long for that to go. A week or two and it’s gone,” Locke said.
The cold winter months are not the only time of year Islanders call the Sally Ann, hoping for emergency help with furnace oil. Locke said calls have been coming in for this program since October.
“It would be helpful to have more funding,” he said.
Opposition Leader Olive Crane says she believes the provincial government should look at a more long-term solution for the heating oil assistance program.
She praised the work of the Salvation Army in administering it over the last five years, but said she believes it should be run by a government agency that could provide greater resources.
“It’s really up to government to help people meet their basic needs, and heat is a basic need,” Crane said.
She acknowledged the program was set up as an emergency service to help people in urgent situations, but said many Islanders are finding themselves in longer-term states of need.
“Last year, the minister (Valerie Docherty) made the comment that she didn’t want people to become dependent on emergency oil, but this is a reality for people who can’t meet their basic needs any longer,” Crane said.
“A program from the Salvation Army that’s not going to be available for another two weeks? What about all these individual people who need help heating their homes? Yesterday was minus 21 degrees outside.”
No one was available for an interview from the Department of Community Services and Seniors, which administers the funds for the home heating assistance program.
In an emailed statement, Bob Creed, director of social programs for the department, said he hopes others in the community partners will come forward and contribute to this program. In past years, the P.E.I. Petroleum Marketers Association and several oil companies have doanted fuel to this program.
Since 2007, the province has donated more than $800,000 to this Salvation Army-administered program.
It is as an emergency resource designed to assist Islanders in a time of crisis who cannot afford home heating oil during the winter months.
Through the program, P.E.I. residents who show an urgent need may receive up to 400 litres of heating oil delivered to their home.
In 2010, more than 300 Island families received emergency heating assistance through this program.