Salvation Army oil subsidy program nearly dry
Funds have all but run out for the Salvation Army's oil subsidy program on Prince Edward Island this year, officials say.
The Salvation Army in Charlottetown is still accepting applications from low-income earners who need help with their heating bills this winter, but the money is almost gone.
"As of today, we're at 180 families that have come through our office in the last two weeks," Lt. Ian Scott of the Salvation Army said Wednesday.
"That would equal just about $65,000 that we've spent, so we're into the last thousands of dollars now."
Demand for the program has been growing ever since fuel prices took a big jump in 2008. But the number of Islanders able to get help is going down, mainly because the provincial government is cutting funding to the program.
Across Prince Edward Island, more than 400 people received the subsidy last year. But this year, only 250 people have been able to access the subsidy.
The provincial government has been the biggest single contributor to the Salvation Army oil fund in recent years, giving it more than $500,000 in 2008. But provincial funding this year is less than half of what it was in the past, and the Salvation Army said it's getting strong hints that more cuts are coming.
The province has not committed to funding the program next year, pointing to a 14 per cent break on electricity rates that will start in April.
"This will be for each and every month of the year," Bob Creed of the Department of Community Services said, "and the effect of that should help Islanders with their household expenses and certainly is much more long term in nature than the winter home heating program."
Salvation Army officials said the oil program has drifted away from its original purpose. It was intended for short-term emergencies only, but many families now ask for help year after year.
But those on the front lines said the program is important.
"We still have lots of people that are coming in every day to get oil," Salvation Army volunteer Betty Begg said. "It's really a sin that we don't have more money to go around."
The Salvation Army in Charlottetown will continue taking applications through Friday, while the Salvation Army in Summerside said its money has already been spent.