Berkshire Community Action Council assistance programs.

Low income families, including those that may be at risk such as seniors or the disabled, can turn to the Berkshire Community Action Agency Council for help and referrals. The agency offers both financial support in a crisis and case management type services.

During the colder fall and winter months, the LIHEAP - Fuel Assistance program is an option. It was created to help low income qualified families pay their natural gas or heating bills. LIHEAP is a federal government funded service for those that qualify.

Berkshire Community Action Council processes applications, and all types of heating sources are eligible for support, including heating oil, propane, kerosene, cord wood, natural gas, wood pellets, and electricity. Some apartments or rental properties that have their heating costs included in the rent may still be eligible for grants as well.

Help paying for fuel and energy costs can only be used towards the utility bill for the amount of heat that is actually used during the selected time period. If your monthly bill is less than your federal government benefit amount, then the community action agency only pay your utility company in that amount. As an example, if you are eligible for $300 from LIHEAP but your heating bill total is only $250 then the $50 difference is returned to the funding pool.

Low-income households that gross a yearly income at or below the income guidelines may still be eligible. Homeowners and renters can also both can apply to get fuel assistance.

The program is wide ranging across both Massachusetts and Berkshire County. The towns that are served by this program are Alford, Ashley Falls, Becket, Adams, Cheshire, Chester, Clarksburg, Dalton, Drury, E. Otis, Florida, Great Barrington, Hancock, Hinsdale, Housatonic, Lanesboro, New Marlboro, Lee, Lenox, Lenoxdale, Mill River, Monterey, Mt. Washington, Pittsfield, New Ashford, North Adams, N. Egremont, Peru, Richmond, Sandisfield, Savoy, Sheffield, South Egremont, S. Lee, Southfield, Stockbridge, Tyringham, W. Stockbridge, Washington, Williamstown, and others such as Windsor. Priority for financial help is given to households of senior citizens or disabled persons and with children of the ages 6 or less and are high energy users.




Emergency housing, including rent and transitional resources, are offered by Berkshire Community Action Council. This housing as well as Shelter Program is offered by a department which is focused on providing emergency support for income qualified individuals and families.

The focus is on those who are behind on their rent or that have found themselves without shelter. So there are some prioritizations that are set. The mission of BCAC is to help those who are homeless or facing imminent eviction by offering a number of services that will transition people into permanent housing.

The programs main goal is to address the immediate crisis and then to promote the participants self-sufficiency and ability to function on their own. So not only can a client get funds to pay for rent or housing costs such as utilities, but job training and other case management services are available.

The resources offered can also offer loans for housing costs, such as a security deposit fee. Case management is there to assist those who need help understanding how they became homeless such as job loss, drug/alcohol addiction, medical issues, mental illness, eviction or poverty. The community action agency will also provide Financial Training, Case Management, Parenting Classes, Job Training, shelter assistance, Information and Referral to other programs that may help other needs.

All services from BACAC are wide ranging. Staff can also refer participants to other programs in the community so that individuals can find stability and support. This is available as they continue to transition from shelter to permanent housing. The need for a referral is determined by the residents needs.

Homeless Prevention and Transitional Housing Assistance is a partnership between many agencies, such as the Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority and Project RECONNECT. The public Housing Authority provides space and support for specialists to help families and individuals find and pay the rent on safe and affordable housing.

Both Food Distribution and Nutrition Assistance is provided to community members in need, including children and the elderly. This is from BCAC and the non-profit acts as the Berkshire County main supplier for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. They are involved in providing support to these distribution centers, such as charities and pantries. They work with distributors to provide groceries and ensure people have access to a local delivery site that is centrally located in Pittsfield.

Additional Heating System Services are another program designed to assist county residents who need help paying their utility bills. This statewide program was made to provide emergency services who may have had their power or electricity shut off for nonpayment. Applicants who are eligible for Fuel Assistance and own their homes can have heating systems repaired through this service, and it can help renters as well.





If the heating system is deemed to be unrepairable, then help is there to replace the furnace or whatever type of system is used by the resident. Routine cleanings are not a service provided by this program unless there are funds available at the end of the winter season.

Weatherization is yet another government service that is offered from BCAC. Hundreds of Berkshire County residents have saved money on their utility bills through their federal and state funded Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP).

This is available as the result of a cash grant that is paid for with both government and Utility Company funding. It has been designed to save customers of all utility companies’ money on their heating dollars by increasing energy efficiency of their homes and/or apartments.

Qualified contractors are contacted by Berkshire Community Action Council (BCAC) to perform the permanent weatherization work to highest of standards. Eligible modifications and updates include insulation for walls, attics, floors, and heating system pipes or ducts. Also weather-stripping, furnace tune ups, air sealing, and other minor repairs related to prevent heat loss may be offered by BCAC.

Some heating systems or furnaces may need to be repaired or replaced through the community action agencies heating service program. All work is completed without cost to the homeowner or tenant. Also note that this conservation program is available to most people who are also eligible for the Federal Fuel Assistance program (LIHEAP).

Another electricity savings program is also available to qualifying households. This is in addition to what is mentioned above. Changes such as installing high efficiency light bulbs and replacing pre energy star refrigerators or freezers are part of this. Inquire at BCAC.

Project RECONNECT, which is a form of self-sufficiency, contributes to the Berkshire County area by offering a number of resources. This BCAC  resource includes mentoring supports that focus on the whole person in need. Staff work to make positive choices/changes so that they can become more productive and independent citizens.

This person-centered program is to make the western Massachusetts community workforce better, by increasing the ratio of productive people to those dependent on the system through job training and education.

What is offered from Project RECONNECT is dedicated to making a positive change that is unlike any other private or government program offered by any other community services. Case managers from Berkshire Community Action Council work together with other agencies and the services. It  emphasizes self-motivation, empowerment, and taking personal responsibility.

Career Preparedness Training is available as part of the Project and the non-profit agency. This service is a comprehensive Career Preparedness Training Program tailored to prepare participants to enter the western Massachusetts workforce successfully.

By using this program, participants will gain valuable work skills, access career counseling, complete a personalized education and develop a career plan to build a professional portfolio. Work with staff to create an updated resume, cover letter and maybe an employee reference sheet. Graduates of this program will be awarded a Career Preparedness Certificate as well, which can help in their search.




Low cost Transportation Services are also offered by the Berkshire Community Action Council. They have a number of vans and cars that they use for this program, which include both ambulatory and wheelchair equipped vans. Volunteers and professional drivers operate in Pittsfield, Massachusetts as well as other towns in the county. Funding comes from the state and department of Mental Needs.

The elderly in Berkshire County can benefit from the M.R.S. Program (Medical Reassurance Service). This is a volunteer service to provide assistance to senior citizens or maybe the disabled.

The volunteers may make daily phone calls to remind their peers to take medications, deliver meals, to check on their health and well-being, or to do health maintenance tasks. The M.R.S. program is there from Berkshire Community Action to assist seniors in maintaining their independence so that they can continue living in their own homes.

Call  (413) 445-4503. Or the location of Berkshire Community Action Council is 1531 East Street, Pittsfield, MA 01201.


By Jon McNamara

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