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When it comes to talking about the weather, there’s never a lot of certainty in Maine. Like the saying goes, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will probably change.”

But if there’s anything that we can say for sure, it’s that cold weather is on its way.

And for many Maine families, that truth comes with a chill as harsh as any winter wind. They are left to wonder how they’ll manage to keep warm with energy costs soaring and with little hope of relief.

We can’t control the price of heating oil or how high the mercury rises in our thermometers. But we can do our best to make sure Mainers don’t have to go through this winter’s short days and cold nights alone.

While high energy prices hit all of us hard, Mainers with low-incomes suffer the most. They are forced to spend a higher percentage of their income on heat and sometimes make it impossible, the choices that lie between staying warm, buying medicine and putting groceries in the cupboards.

It’s really no choice at all.

That’s why we have done our best, working with Maine State Housing, to stretch every single dollar out of our energy assistance programs that help Mainers who are struggling to make ends meet. They receive help buying heating oil.

The program makes a real difference. During the 2005 heating season, the heating oil program, called LIHEAP, helped almost 49,000 Maine families.

While the assistance usually doesn’t get a family through winter alone, there’s no doubt that it helps during the hardest times of the year.

Our efforts to help our neighbors don’t stop with heating oil.

We also have the Keep Maine Warm program.

This program helps families make the most of their resources by reducing energy costs.

Working together with a number of state agencies, private companies and nonprofits, 1,000 Warm Kits will be available to low-income homeowners.

The idea behind the kit is pretty simple. If we can help homeowners make their houses more energy efficient, they’ll have more money to spend on the essentials.

The kits contain a number of useful items, from fluorescent light bulbs, to low-flow shower heads, to caulking for interior storm windows. It also includes helpful information about how to take efficiency even further.

Brochures about the program will be available at a number of government agencies and Community Action Agencies, where kits can also be picked up.

It also includes $60 worth of home improvement tools that can make a difference for families living on the edge.

But the efficiency ideas on the brochures can work for everyone.

Heating bills will be high this year, and while we’ll have to make sure our less fortunate neighbors are taken care of, we’re all going to feel the sting of high oil and electricity prices.

A few simple steps – replacing conventional light bulbs with fluorescents, sealing cracks around doors and windows, insulating the water heater – can add up to significant savings over Maine’s long winter.

For more information on the Warm Kits or energy efficiency programs, Mainer’s can call the state’s information line at 2-1-1 or check out the MaineHousing or Maine Office of Energy Independence and Security Web site.

A few small changes can go a long way.

The very best protection that any of us has during difficult times is each other. If you’re doing OK, check in on a neighbor, call your friends and try to look out for each other.

Mainers have a long history of reaching out to one another during difficult times. So as we approach winter, I often think about the great Ice Storm and the hardships it created.

And as difficult as that was and as trying as that was, it really showed the greatness of Maine people and how they reached out to each other. Even if they didn’t have it themselves to give…they gave.

We might be reluctant to ask for help, but we don’t hesitate to offer it to others.

This winter is going to be cold, it could be long. But we know some of our neighbors are going to need help in order to make it through safe and sound.

The State of Maine is going to do its part, and I know I can count on all of you to do yours.

God bless you, and have a good day.

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