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Low-income energy assistance now available

Applications for this year’s Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) are now available at the Blair County Assistance Office. Executive Director Robert Lena officially announced the beginning of the program this past Thursday, October 31.
LIHEAP is a Federal program that assists low-income families and individuals who cannot pay their heating bills. Eligible households can receive assistance through a direct payment to vendors who supply their fuel, or through a crisis component during weather-related emergencies, such as a broken furnace, leaking pipes, or terminated utility service, by which there is a maximum benefit of $300. Homeowners, renters (including those whose rent includes heat), roomers and subsidized housing tenants may be eligible. Any type of fuel may be used.
A weatherization program is also available through Community Action in Blair County for insulating homes, caulking, storm doors and windows, and other related problems. This process requires the client simply marking the back of the application that he or she would like a referral made. The service isn’t guaranteed, but it’s another offered.
To receive help an individual or family does not have to be on public assistance, does not need to have an unpaid heating bill, and that individual or family can either rent or own a home.
The program opens for both the cash and crisis components on Nov. 12, with the cash and crisis components closing March 27, 2003. Besides household income, grants are based on the type of fuel used and the county of residence.
Cash grants help families pay their heating bills. The grant payment is sent directly to the family’s utility company or fuel provider, and it will be credited on your bill. In some cases, the check may be mailed to you directly.
Crisis grants help families who have an emergency and are in danger of being without heat. Emergency situations include having broken heating equipment or leaking lines, a fuel shortage that may leave a family without heat, or having utility service shut off.
Lena urged county residents to apply early for the program.
“Last year, some families missed out on the program because they waited too long to apply,” Lena said. “This is unfortunate because, in most cases, documentation of income for the previous 30 days is enough to establish eligibility.”
Lena noted, “I urge all families who receive mail-in applications to return the form promptly. Families who didn’t receive applications can obtain one from the County Assistance Office.”
To be eligible for the program, household income cannot exceed 135 percent of the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines, or for a one-person household, $11,961; two persons, $16,119; three persons, $20,277; four persons, $24,435; five persons, $28,593; six persons, $32,751. For larger households, the guidelines increase by $4,158 for each additional person.
There are three different ways the Energy Assistance Program calculates income: The past 30 days, past 90 days, or past 12 months.
George Finch, supervisor for the Energy Assistance Program of Blair County, added, “This helps people who might work construction, for example, and are laid off during the winter months, so they can be eligible also for benefits. We encourage everybody who has low income or trouble paying their bills to apply for the program.”
Finch also said that face to face interviews are not required or necessary, the entire process can be handled through the mail. A person can call the phone number and will be mailed an application, which is filled out, attaching the verification that’s requested, mailed back in, and the agency can then determine eligibility.
Last year, 5,800 county households received $1,590,000 in basic LIHEAP cash grants to offset heating bills. Crisis grants totaling $330,000 were given to 2,400 county households with heating emergencies. Presently, the Energy Assistance Program has already received 3,000 applications.
To apply for LIHEAP, call or visit your local County Assistance Office. Be sure to apply in the county where you live. To apply, you will need the names of people in your household, dates of birth for all household members, social security numbers for all household members, proof of income for members of your household, and a recent heating bill.
You will receive a written notice that says if you are eligible and the amount of assistance you will receive. If you are not satisfied with the grant amount you will receive or the way you are treated, you can ask the County Assistance Office for a hearing.
“We encourage everyone to apply, even if a person is slightly over the income limits because we try to find people eligible here,” said Finch. “We don’t try to deny then and our workers are professionally trained to look at ll the income guidelines.”
Finch stressed that people who send in applications must apply in the county in which they live, because the program is county specific.
Help for families is available 24 hours a day by calling 946-7365, or the statewide hotline number at 1-866-857 7095.