From the Vineyard Gazette editions of October, 1979:
“We are the second poorest county in the state, but it’s a hard thing to find out how many poor people there are.” Margot Moore, director of the Edgartown Council on Aging, shares this problem with most of the Island’s social service agencies. And with winter and high fuel costs approaching, the problem of getting financial assistance to the Island and to eligible Islanders is increasingly urgent.
The median income for Dukes County is $9,578, according to state commerce department figures. Median income for the state is about $10,835. This means that half the Island’s working population has income greater than $9,578, and half makes less than that.
A key factor is the cyclical nature of the Island economy. Unemployment during January 1979 was estimated at 15.5 per cent. In February and March it averaged 14.3 per cent. Behind these percentages stood between 550 and 650 people.
The pattern is consistent over the years, because the Island’s economy — up to 95 per cent of it according to one survey — is based on the summer resort industry and building. In the heart of the winter, a time of higher expenses, many families have diminished ability to pay.
Families of four with incomes less than $8,375 may be eligible for the federal crisis intervention program, designed to help with fuel costs, now pending in Congress. But families with higher incomes who have to spend “all out” for heating oil help, particularly need food stamps, Marjorie Murphy, director of the Island’s public welfare office, says.
“It’s hard to tell how many will come in looking for food stamps,” Mrs. Murphy says, “but we expect a 25 per cent increase.” Winter unemployment traditionally increases the number of families who need food stamps, Mrs. Murphy says.
Most of the people on the Island have low or moderate incomes by federal standards, and will be hit hard by fuel costs. The outstanding question is: How much will Islanders have to strain to meet winter costs and inflation, and will assistance programs now in the planning stages find their way to the people who need them?
After an hour of discussing the politics and economics of heating homes this winter, particularly the problems lower income people have paying fuel bills when the oil companies only allow 10 days credit, selectman Jeffrey Madison of Gay Head asked a simple question of Island officials assembled Wednesday. “When will people get sick of this? There’s no reason why the oil companies can’t let our local companies have thirty days of credit. People can’t afford anything — even a ferry ride off the Island. Everything has to go just to live. It doesn’t make sense.”
“People are in despair,” Peter Olotka, director of the Community Action Committee, a community advocacy group, said at Wednesday’s meeting, called to discuss distribution of federal money to relieve the effects of heating oil prices. But money from the government will not solve the underlying problem everyone in the Northeast faces this winter — the present technology for heating homes is becoming unaffordable.
Mr. Olotka’s group has plans for the future. He says he wants to form a collective of families, as many as 2,000, to pool government grant money to finance conversions to solar, wood and wind energy. “A homeowner could save 40 to 100 per cent of his current fuel use if he could just install some kind of alternate energy,” Mr. Olotka says. “The offshore oil-drilling on George’s Bank will be a national issue. We should provide a counter focus by saying we can’t pay for more oil — here’s what we want to do.”
People are already sick of unaffordable energy. The next five or ten years may give the answer to the other, implicit, part of Mr. Madison’s question: Will we be able to do anything about it?
Dan E. Aykroyd, best known as a featured performer on the Saturday Night Live television show, has bought the main Tea Lane Association house, principals Eleanor Pearlson and Julia G. Sturges, in Chilmark with six acres of wooded land and a sweeping ocean view, including the Elizabeth Islands. The sale price is $500,000.
According to sources close to the sale, Mr. Aykroyd has been looking for a Vineyard house since June. As a prospective Chilmark homeowner, he joins fellow Saturday Night Live performer John Belushi. Mr. Belushi bought Robert McNamara’s expansive South Beach home this summer for $435,000. Mr. McNamara, former secretary of defense, is the president of the World Bank.
Mr. Aykroyd and Mr. Belushi, in addition to a shared billing on the popular New York television show, team together as the Blues Brothers. The two have produced a big selling record as the Blues Brothers, and a movie casting the two in that role is in the works.
Compiled by Alison Mead