PEARL RIVER Because of energy forecasts that predict sharply higher prices for home-heating fuels this winter, O&R will make a $25,000 advance contribution to The Neighbor Fund, the utility’s home energy assistance fund. “O&R customarily matches our customers’ contributions dollar-for-dollar as they are donated,” said Alan Freedman, O&R’s director of public affairs. “But this year, the high-energy price predictions have convinced us that The Neighbor Fund must hit the ground running to help our needy customers, so we are advancing the payment.” He added, “In effect, because of these unusual circumstances, we are challenging our customers to match us with contributions this year, instead of O&R matching theirs.” The Neighbor Fund, which started on November 1 for the coming winter heating season, provides critical home-heating assistance for those O&R customers who find themselves unable to pay their home heating fuel bills because of emergency financial conditions. Additionally, to help diminish the affect of this winter’s predicted harsh prices, O&R announced today that it will break with precedent this winter, and increase the maximum, one-time grant for a needy individual by 25 percent, from $400 to $500. That will mean that the fund will increase the one-time grant for electric customers from $200 to $250, and for heating fuel customers from $200 to $250. Grants from the fund are awarded to pay for home energy costs no matter what type of fuel is used - electricity, oil, natural gas, propane, wood or coal. The grant money does not have to be repaid, and there are no age limits or income guidelines to be met. To qualify for the grant, individuals must have an account with O&R and must have already exhausted all governmental resources available for financial assistance. They must also provide supporting documentation of emergency or crisis circumstances (medical bills, unemployment notification, etc.). Since 1983, the fund has awarded over $3.1 million in grants, to more than 14,000 households enduring financial hardship. Last year, O&R made 153 grants, totaling nearly $60,000. Half of all funds come from O&R customers’ contributions; that amount is matched dollar-for-dollar by the shareholders of Consolidated Edison, O&R’s parent company. The Salvation Army administers The Neighbor Fund program, evaluates applications, and makes the grants.