02/02/12 — Energy funds already gone

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Energy funds already gone

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 2, 2012 1:46 PM

In a little over an hour, the Wayne County Department of Social Services on Wednesday approved 15 applications and committed $3,600 of the $20,000 remaining in the county's $720,000 allocation for the revamped Low Income Energy Assistance Program -- the remainder was gone before 2 p.m.

"That is amazing," said Debbie Jones, director of the county's Department of Social Services which administers the program.

The county still has money available through the federally funded Crisis Intervention Program, which provides assistance to eligible households facing a heating or cooling emergency.

Those benefits vary based on the amount needed. Eligible households may receive assistance more than once during the period of July through June. However, the total yearly benefit cannot exceed $600, which is paid directly to the vendor.

Applicants must meet an income test and be in a cooling- or heating-related emergency. Also, at least one person in the household must be a citizen of the U.S. or a non-citizen who meets certain eligibility criteria.

"We are currently taking CIP applications for all households for a heating related crisis," Ms. Jones said. "They must have a cutoff notice or be within a two to three day cutoff period to qualify for these funds.

"Everyone who lives at the same residence must be included in the application, unless it is known to be a boarding house or contain separate apartments. If it is a known boarding house or separate apartment with a separate heat source, there must be a written or lease agreement. A household must include at least one U. S. citizen, or an eligible alien."

During a three-day period in January, DSS workers saw 109 people who were applying for the program.

"We limited it to 40 people a day because of the time that it takes," Ms. Jones said. "We tried to streamline the process so that we would not have people sit here all day and still not be able to see them. We tried to be more efficient. It has gone well.

"Most of the money went to the elderly, not as much went to the disabled."

The program is open to people age 60 and older or disabled persons who receive SSI, SSA or VA disability and who are receiving services through the Division of Aging and Adult Services.

Changes this year make it difficult to compare the program to previous years, she said. In prior years, applications were taken in November and payments sent directly to recipients in February.

This year the state Legislature required that the energy payments be made directly to the service provider, such as power, gas or oil companies during the month of the application.

Also changed is the amount of money that is awarded. In prior years, the amount ranged from $60 to $120. It is now $200 or $400, depending on the fuel being used.

People who heat with wood, natural gas, coal or electricity were eligible for $200, while people who heat with fuel oil, kerosene or LP gas were eligible for $400.

Originally an entitlement program funded by the federal government, it was changed this year to an allocation, meaning that once the money was spent that there is no more.

"There has been some talk that the state might pull LIEAP money from the counties that did not spend it and give to the counties that have," she said. "We could get more, but it won't be a large amount."

If and when that might happen is not known, she said.

Previously, all households participating in the Food and Nutrition Services Program (formerly called Food Stamps) were automatically approved for the program. Now all households had to meet income and resource eligibility requirements and must apply for LIEAP funds -- there were no automatic approvals.