Energy assistance program provides help

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 14, 2011

By Pat Spears
For the Salisbury Post
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is a federal program first established in 1981 and is funded annually through Congressional appropriations. LIHEAP also includes the Low Income Energy Assistance Program and the Crisis Intervention Program (CIP). In North Carolina, these programs are referred to as the Energy Programs. Through federal funding, all states receive a block grant allocation each year to provide eligible, low-income individuals and families assistance with the costs associated with heating or cooling their homes.
North Carolina received $76,917,631 for this fiscal year. This is approximately 50 percent less than the block grant allocation to North Carolina for the 2010-11 fiscal year. Of this allocation, $11,862,617 is designated for LIEAP and $48,569,233 is designated for CIP. LIEAP and CIP differ in that LIEAP is available during the winter months and the funding is used solely for heating costs for low-income individuals or families without the presence of a crisis. CIP funds are year-round and are used to alleviate a heating or cooling crisis for eligible, low-income individuals or families. In Rowan County, DSS administers LIEAP and contracts with Rowan Helping Ministries to administer CIP. Recent N.C. legislation implemented major changes to LIEAP and some minor changes to CIP.
In the past, DSS took applications from the public for LIEAP for the first two weeks of November each year. In addition to taking applications, the state matched data from the Food and Nutrition Services program and automatically approved many Food and Nutrition Services households to receive assistance from LIEAP. The state determined the amount of the payments based on the federal block grant and the number of households that were eligible. All eligible households were issued a check on Feb. 1 each year. The checks were issued directly to the recipient. With the recently passed legislation, North Carolina will no longer issue checks directly to recipients. Payments will be made to the vendor who supplies the heating source for the eligible households. LIEAP applications will be taken from Dec. 1 until March 31, 2012, or until funds for the program are exhausted, whichever comes first. North Carolina will target households for the elderly and disabled during December 2011 and January 2012 and will open the applications up to all who wish to apply beginning Feb. 1, if funds are available.
Applications taken during the months of December and January will be for those households that meet the target groups established by state legislation. There are two target groups for this initial application-taking period. DSS will accept applications for the following households in December and January:
• Households in which all members of the household are age 60 or older.
• Households that contain a member who is disabled and the disabled household member is actively receiving services through programs administered by the Division of Aging and Adult Services.
DSS cannot approve applications for any other households during December or January. With a 50 percent reduction in the state’s allocation, Rowan County’s portion for this fiscal year is $176,566. Last year, DSS issued $1,119,876 to 5,069 Rowan County households. The benefit levels established by the state require DSS to issue one-time payments of $400 or $200 based on the heating source the household uses. Based on the allocation of $176,566 and the benefit levels of $200 and $400, we are projecting we will be able to issue payments for approximately 600 households. The payments will be authorized for all eligible households at application, not in February as in past years. For households who have received assistance through LIEAP in past years, these changes are drastic. Many households will not realize until February that they are not going to receive the “energy” check this year.
Information about the changes to the Energy Programs has been placed on the DSS website, on the government cable channel (ACCESS 16) in Salisbury, and on the NC211 system and DSS has distributed information about the changes to other agencies and organizations within Rowan County. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services plans to send a press release to the local news media in each county during November. Persons interested in receiving more information about the program may contact the Rowan County Department of Social Services at 704-216-8330.
Pat Spears is income maintenance administrator for the Rowan County Department of Social Servicers