Low-income residents of Fairfax County can get help this winter with heating bills and other energy-related problems through a comprehensive assistance program administered by a number of county government agencies.

Generally, homeowners and renters whose incomes fall within the guidelines may be eligible for assistance if they now have or previously had unpaid fuel bills or if they need to purchase fuel, need emergency heating assistance or have purchased fuel and then have been unable to afford food, medicine or other necessities.

The Virginia Fuel Assistance Program distributes both federal and state aid to low-income families who face heating emergencies, according to Mary Jane White, fuel coordinator with the Fairfax County Fuel Assistance Program.

Because persons receiving Social Security benefits or living on pensions might not qualify under that program's eligibility requirements, a $70,000 county-sponsored program has been set up to help those whose incomes barely exceed the guidelines, White said. Single, working mothers who earn just a little too much money to be eligible for the state program might also be eligible for the county-paid assistance, she said.

The Fairfax Cummunity Action Program also offers help with home weatherization projects such as the insulation of attics, heat ducts, electric hot water heaters, crawl spaces, unheated basements and water pipes, as well as minor roof repairs, replacement of broken glass and installation of storm windows.

A federal crisis intervention program also offers short-term assistance in fuel-related emergencies and is used to meet "any kind of an amergency need that can't be met by the Virginia Fuel Assistance Program," according to Christine Anderson, energy projects coordinator for the Community Action Agency and Office of Energy and Emergency Services.

Assistance available through the federal program would include furnance repairs, loans to buy space heaters, donations of blankets and plastic for windows, and temporary shelter. The intervention program will also offer low-cost or free conservation workshops, and can act as a go-between between fuel companies and clients.