USDA’s helping hand to low-income homeowners


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About two dozen volunteers made repairs and improvements to Corinne Comeau’s house.

(Photos by Chris Jensen)

It was raining heavily, a bunch of soggy strangers were tromping around in her yard and Corinne Comeau, 84, was thrilled.

“I am positively, absolutely in shock. It pays to pray. It really does,” she said.

In this case, the prayers were being answered through a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that helps low-income homeowners with crucial, health-related repairs.

Last year, the program provided about $720,000 in 111 low-interest loans and grants throughout New Hampshire, said Pollaidh Major, the spokeswoman for the agency in Vermont and New Hampshire.

For example, a single person with a maximum income of $25,000 could be eligible for a loan with 1 percent interest. Seniors may receive a grant for as much as $7,500.

Comeau came to the attention of the USDA because she gets some help from the Tri-County Community Action Program with heating expenses, said Janice Daniels, a USDA official who covers northern Grafton and Coos County.

‘Fabulous, wonderful things’

Tri-County CAP officials told Daniels that Comeau was having some serious problems with her furnace. So, Daniels visited Comeau and eventually she got one of those $7,500 grants.

“But I saw there was a lot more that needed to be done than just a new furnace,” Daniels said.

And then Daniels began thinking about her annual project in which USDA gets together with businesses and other organizations to do more for a homeowner who is badly in need of help.

So she got help from Eversource, Tri-County CAP, Sherwin-Williams Paints and the NH Departments of Energy and Environmental Services.

That’s how, on a rainy Friday, Comeau’s house was surrounded by staff and volunteers doing efficiency updates, adding insulation, doing lawn and garden work, removing a broken-down shed, emptying the septic tank and making exterior repairs to the home including siding and painting.

“I never in a million could afford it,” said Comeau. “They’ve done all kinds of fabulous, wonderful things. I didn’t beg or plead or ask. It all just happened, like a wonderful gift.”

The USDA Rural Development program is among those targeted for cuts under the 2018 budget proposed by President Donald Trump, although the budget doesn’t provide details.

InDepthNH.org is a nonprofit news website published online by the NH Center for Public Interest Journalism.

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