02/16/12 — County exhausts heating aid funds

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County exhausts heating aid funds

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 16, 2012 1:46 PM

It has taken less than a week for Wayne County to go through the additional $72,893 it had received for the federally funded Low Income Energy Assistance Program.

Applications for funds to help the needy with heating bills opened last Wednesday and were exhausted by Thursday.

Applications for the county's original allocation of $720,000 got under way in December and were expended by Feb. 1.

During the first round of funding, applications were available 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.

With only $20,000 remaining at the end of January, applications opened Feb. 1 to anyone who met the income criteria. Within hours, the money was gone.

It is difficult to compare this year to previous years because of changes in the program, said Debbie Jones, director of the Wayne County Department of Social Services which administers the program.

In previous years, applications were taken in November and payments sent directly to recipients in February.

However, state lawmakers this year required payments to be made directly to the service provider, such as power, gas or oil companies during the month of the application.

The amount of money that is awarded changed as well. Prior to this year, 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.

Also, in years past, all households participating in the Food and Nutrition Services Program (formerly called food stamps) were automatically approved for the program. This year all households had to meet income and resource eligibility requirements and must apply for the funds -- there were no automatic approvals.