02/07/12 — More heating money available

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More heating money available

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 7, 2012 1:46 PM

Needy Wayne County residents could begin applying as early as Wednesday morning for help with their heating bills thanks to an infusion of more than $500,000 for two separate federally funded programs administered locally by the county Department of Social Services.

Whether that happens hinges on county commissioners approving budget amendments for the programs at their meeting today.

"They do have to approve it because it is more than what we budgeted for," said DSS Director Debbie Jones "If it was within our budget we would be good to go."

Ms. Jones said she expects the amendments to be approved. If that happens, the county would start taking applications Wednesday morning at the Social Services office on East Ash Street, she said. The office is open from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

The additional $72,893 for the state's Low Income Energy Assistance Program comes less than a week after the county had expended the last of its original $720,000 allocation.

Wayne County also will receive $298,570 for the Crisis Intervention Program, putting the total for fiscal year 2011-12 to more than $1 million. The county had about $100,000 in CIP funding before the additional allocation increased the amount to $439,618.

Ms. Jones said she was surprised by the amount considering how mild the weather has been. Normally the money is sent to the regions that have experienced the most severe weather, she said.

During the first round of LIEAP funding that got under way in December, the program was 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. Most of the money went to the elderly, Ms. Jones said.

Last Wednesday the LIEAP was opened to anyone who met the income criteria and within hours the county had exhausted the $20,000 that had been left following the first funding cycle.

In prior years, applications were taken in November and payments sent directly to recipients in February. The state General Assembly this year required that those 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 previous 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 are eligible for $200, while people who heat with fuel oil, kerosene or LP gas are eligible for $400.

In the past, 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.

"CIP criteria are a little tougher," Ms. Jones said. "You have to be in a heating or cooling crisis not of your own making."

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.