10/27/13 — Energy bill help will be available

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Energy bill help will be available

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 27, 2013 1:50 AM

Wayne County has yet to learn whether $800,000 lost to the federal government shutdown will be reinstated to an energy assistance program for the poor.

But while Department of Social Services Director Debbie Jones is awaiting word on that funding, Duke Energy has awarded a one-time contribution of $175,796 to a second low-income program.

The $800,000 is funded through the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, which are federal dollars distributed by the state.

"The only thing that we have been told is that since the shutdown is over, the assumption is going to be that, 'You will get what you had originally been told you would get,'" Ms. Jones said. "Sometimes, if they vote more money in, we will get a larger allotment. But we distribute that in early November anyway."

In the meantime, the North Carolina Utilities Commission directed Duke Energy Progress to make a one-time contribution to community agencies in their service areas. Wayne County DSS was awarded $175,796 out of the more than $5.4 million given statewide to assist low-income electric customers with bill payments.

The money must be given out by the county between now and June 30, 2016.

The agreement provides that 7 percent of the money can be used to cover the cost of administering the funds.

The donation that will complement the Crisis Intervention Program, which also are federal dollars distributed by the state to help low-income people in times of emergency. The county currently has $496,389.09 in CIP funding, though Ms. Jones expects to receive more now that the shutdown is over.

"This (Duke Energy) money is going to be like CIP, but it doesn't have quite as many strings attached to it," Ms. Jones said. "Probably what we will do is kind of hold that in reserve because we do get people who are struggling."

CIP applicants must meet an income test and be in a cooling- or heating-related emergency. At least one person in the household must be a U.S. citizen or a non-citizen who meets eligibility criteria.

Eligible households may receive assistance more than once during the state's fiscal year, July 1 to June 30, but yearly total cannot exceed $600. CIP payments are made directly to the vendor on behalf of the applicant -- often to forestall a termination of services, Ms. Jones said.

The problem, though, she said, is that they process about 50 applications a day and once people use their $600, they cannot receive any more -- something this extra Duke Energy funding will help with, though, it also will be capped at $600 for the fiscal year.

"They can only get $600 worth of CIP in a fiscal year. So once they have gotten that, and say we have another really cold month after that, then we have a problem. We can't serve them. But we kind of have this little extra pot of money this year," Ms. Jones said.

The Low Income Energy Assistance Program, on the other hand, is designed to simply help low-income residents pay their utility bills. Those payments, Ms. Jones said, are only made once and are "not that big."

"They are not much more than $100 each," Ms. Jones said.

Only households with an elderly person, 60 and older, or a disabled person receiving services through the Division of Aging and Adult Services, are eligible to possibly receive benefits.

Prior to 2011, households participating in the Food and Nutrition Services Program were automatically approved for LIHEAP.

However, there are no longer any automatic approvals. All households must meet income and resource eligibility requirements and must apply for the funds.

Everyone who lives at the same residence must be included on the application unless it is a boarding house or contains separate apartments. There must be a written or lease agreement if it is a boarding house or has a separate apartment with a separate heat source.

A valid Social Security number is required for each household member.

The payments are made directly to the heating provider with a vendor agreement with DSS.

In previous years, the payment amount ranged from $60 to $120. It is now capped at $200 or $400, depending on the fuel being used. People who heat with wood, natural gas, coal or electricity are eligible for up to $200, while people who heat with fuel oil, kerosene or LP gas are eligible for up to $400.