12/04/05 — Assistance for heating bills harder to find

View Archive

Assistance for heating bills harder to find

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on December 4, 2005 2:10 AM

The cost of keeping warm has risen over the past year. Some Wayne County people will get some help with their heating bills, but for others it may mean making a choice between food, medication and heat.

There are several agencies in Wayne County that offer financial assistance, but the cost of electricity and fuel combined with the limited availability of money may force cutbacks this winter.

Goldsboro Salvation Army Commander Maj. Andrew Wiley said the rising cost of heating a house will be felt by the Salvation Army in two ways.

"It will affect how much we're able to do for clients," he said. "We may have to spend less on each case so we can spread the money and help more people.

"Or we won't be able to help as many clients. The impact is definitely going to be one or the other. To sit and say there will be no impact or business as usual, that's a pipe dream."

So the Salvation Army will either have to spend less per case or reduce the number of cases -- or maybe some of both.

"We just don't know how that's going to play out, but it is something we're concerned about." Wiley said.

"People are finding themselves in need and in turn coming to agencies such as ours," he said.

Wiley said he's afraid that people who have not asked for help before are going to find themselves having to ask for help this year.

In addition to the Salvation Army, another avenue of help is through the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, administered by the Department of Social Services.

Income Maintenance Supervisor Vicki Sutton said the program provides a one-time payment to help people with their heating bills. Applications have been taken and those eligible will receive their check in February.

There are certain guidelines for eligibility including income and the number of people in the household.

"The average check last year was for $66," Ms. Sutton said. "That amount has been a lot more in past years, but I don't know if it's lower now because funds have been cut or more people are applying."

Ms. Sutton noted that the program doesn't have an endless pot of funds, but a certain amount that is divided among those eligible each year.

The demand for help with energy bills has increased over the years, whereas funds have not, said Jane Schwartz, chief of economic services for the state Department of Social Services.

She said that 211,959 families received help last year throughout the state whereas there were only 198,903 the year before. Last year's average check was for $82 she said.

United Church Ministries secretary/treasurer Elaine Lamm said that agency is in pretty good shape right now.

"I think we're going to come pretty close to being able to help as many people as we have in the past," she said. "But if we raise our guidelines, we will be able to help fewer people this year."

United Church Ministries has a limit of $100 per customer per year for heating assistance. "But that's at the discretion of the interviewer or director," she said. "If there is a necessity to do more, we will."

She said a lot of people go in with huge heating bills and if the agency paid the entire bill, it would be out of business in no time.

Nancy Ford with Services on Aging said that her agency has started getting more calls from seniors needing assistance with their heating bills this year. "I think it's going to get worse because we've already had more calls than usual," she said.

Nancy Bunn is on a fixed income and has applied for help with her heating bill at the Salvation Army. The 64-year-old Goldsboro woman heats her home with kerosene.

She said this year it will cost her $289 to buy 100 gallons of kerosene.

"It costs so much," she said. "There ain't no way in the world I'm going to be able to get 100 gallons of kerosene on a set income.

"If I get the kerosene, then I'll have to owe my light bill and part of some other bill. Something's going to have to be lacking for me to be able to get my kerosene this year."