PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – Aroostook County residents who are struggling to pay their electric bills and don’t otherwise qualify for federal and state assistance programs, are getting some help through a unique partnership between the County of Aroostook, Versant Power and Aroostook County Action Program.
Officials from the county government, the electric utility provider and the non-profit organization came together to announce that a $75,000 grant awarded to ACAP through American Rescue Plan Act funding administered by the County of Aroostook will be matched dollar for dollar by Versant Power. The funding comes through Power Match, a charitable program created by Versant Power in late 2022 in partnership with community action agencies in its service area (ACAP, Penquis and Downeast Community Partners).
“In 2021, Aroostook County received funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to be utilized as grant funding in support of municipalities and non-profits overcoming the negative impact of the pandemic. This year, Aroostook County awarded ARPA Grant Funding to support the partnership project between ACAP and Versant Power to help vulnerable County residents, who do not otherwise qualify for assistance, pay their utility bills,” said Steve Pelletier, ARPA program administrator for the County of Aroostook. “Aroostook County and ACAP have partnered on past projects to assist County residents and this project will do the same.”
Over the past three years, ACAP has served thousands of customers financially impacted by COVID 19 and the resulting economic hardships, including many who had never before reached out for services. The agency applied for the County of Aroostook ARPA funding in this most recent application period after experiencing a growing number of calls from households needing assistance to pay their electric bills in light of increases in everything from electricity and fuel oil to groceries and consumer goods. Seeing an opportunity to double the grant award, ACAP turned to its partner in the Power Match program.
“Aroostook County Action Program’s partnership with Versant Power for Power Match has already made a significant and lasting impact on many of our friends and neighbors in Aroostook County and throughout our service territory. We’re pleased to contribute more to this important initiative and continue to foster this partnership with a matching donation of $75,000 to the County of Aroostook grant awarded to ACAP for their Power Match fund,” said John Flynn, president of Versant Power. “With the support of ACAP, Penquis CAP, and Downeast Community Partners, we have raised $82,550 of our $200,000 commitment bringing the total amount with our matching donation to $165,100 for electricity bill relief for our customers.”
For its part, ACAP, which administers utility assistance programs county-wide, will ensure the ARPA and Power Match program funds support those in need who would otherwise go without. Officials representing all three partners underscored that the goal is to support those who have sought assistance through traditional avenues, but are outside of eligibility requirements. A number, which according to ACAP Director of Programs Heidi Rackliffe, continues to grow.
“Although the pandemic was primarily seen as a health crisis, it has caused a financial crisis for thousands of households in Aroostook County. The loss or reduction of income coupled with the drastic increase in expenses such as food, fuel, electricity and other utilities has negatively impacted families and older residents living on a fixed income. In many cases, resources exist to assist those low-income residents in need, and ACAP connects those residents with support each day. Altogether too often in recent months, there is no recourse for those slightly above income eligibility requirements who are struggling to make ends meet,” said Rackliffe. “We are hopeful that by providing this safety net funding, with a 100 percent match from Versant Power, we will be able to ensure that some of the most vulnerable households in Aroostook County receive much needed support at this time. We see a direct correlation between maintaining electricity to securing and maintaining education, employment and better health outcomes.”
Aroostook County residents are not alone in struggling to pay their household costs. According to a study by Help Advisor, one out of every five Americans struggled to pay their energy bill in full at least once in 2022. At the same time, 18 percent kept their house at a temperature that was either unhealthy or unsafe. Even more people went without necessities to make sure they could afford their utilities. More than 28 percent skipped a basic expense such as food or medicine to pay an energy bill in the last 12 months, according to the study.
Through this new partnership support, ACAP is hoping to support nearly 200 vulnerable households avoid electrical disconnection. ACAP continues to encourage the community to reach out if they are in need. Members of the agency’s team can connect them to the resources they may not even realize are available, including as it relates to utility assistance.
ACAP, Versant Power and the County of Aroostook are encouraging other organizations and community members who want to assist and have their contributions matched to consider making a gift to the Power Match Fund so more area households in need of support can be served.
“We are depending on donations from individuals and businesses who may have a couple extra dollars to give to this cause. We know that the people of Maine are incredibly generous and look out for one another when things are hard,” said Flynn. “We count our company lucky to be part of this group and hope that those in our communities will donate so Versant can provide the remaining $117,450 of matching funds to Power Match.”
Donations to the Power Match program in Aroostook County can be made by mail by sending contributions directly to ACAP at: PO Box 1116, Presque Isle, ME 04769, or by donating online at: https://www.acap-me.org/getinvolved/donate/. (Please choose Versant Power Match under “How would you like your donation to be designated?”) Alternatively, if you would like to donate to the Power Match fund for individuals served by Penquis or Downeast Community Partners, please visit this link to donate to Penquis or this link to donate to DCP (please choose Versant Power Match under the “I want to support” drop-down menu).
Aroostook County residents who are unable to pay their energy costs should reach out to ACAP to determine if they are eligible for a bill credit through Power Match or other utility assistance programs.
For more information on the Power Match Program, contact ACAP at 207-764-3721 or e-mail email@example.com.
Aroostook County has received approximately $13 million in ARPA funds. The County will use 50% of funding for its own projects, and make available 50 percent of the funding for grants to Aroostook County municipalities and non-profits in three equal funding rounds for 2022, 2023 and 2024.
Versant Power is committed to delivering safe, reliable electric service. As the state’s second-largest electric utility, the company delivers electricity to more than 165,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers across 10,400 square miles in northern and eastern Maine.
Aroostook County Action Program is a 501c3 non-profit organization founded in 1972. For over fifty years, ACAP has provided the people of Aroostook County with services and resources that help individuals and families achieve greater economic independence. As a leader, or in partnership with others, ACAP provides guidance to the community in responding to emerging human needs in the areas of community health, early care and education, energy and housing, homelessness prevention and mitigation, and workforce development services.