Heating assistance sees changes

A change in the income eligibility guidelines for federal heating assistance is impacting the number of local families normally served by Washington-Morgan Community Action through the winter months. But the need is still there.

“We’ve been really busy over the last couple of months, and have spent $467,866 on assistance with natural gas and electric bills in November and December. But the income guidelines to receive assistance were changed from 200 percent of the federal poverty level last year to 175 percent this year,” said Mary Bayless, senior case manager for Washington-Morgan Community Action’s Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP).

That means for a family of four the annual income must be at or below $41,212.50.

Bayless added that a change in the Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP), which puts eligible families on a utility payment plan based on the last 30 days of income, will also have a negative impact on those in need of the service.

“In the past people paid $175 to stay connected to their heating service for 30 days, and if they missed a monthly payment it could be forgiven,” she said. “But now if they miss a monthly payment the entire past-due balance on their bill must be paid for service to continue. In some cases that balance may be as high as $5,000. That’s affecting a lot of our clients.”

Bayless said assistance through HEAP has risen slightly over last year.

In addition to the HEAP and PIPP initiatives, the Winter Crisis Program, a component of HEAP, provides assistance to eligible households that are threatened with disconnection or have been disconnected, or if their heating fuel tank contains 25 percent or less of its capacity of bulk fuel.

Ohio’s Home Weatherization Assistance Program (HWAP) is a federally funded low-income residential energy efficiency program offered through Community Action.

The program reduces low-income households’ energy use, thus creating more affordable housing for those in most need. Services include attic, wall, and basement insulation; blower-door-guided air leakage reduction; heating system repairs or replacements; and health and safety testing and inspections.

Bayless said anyone in need of assistance through any of these programs should visit one of the Washington-Morgan Community Action locations in Marietta or Malta in Morgan County.

“They should bring their utility bills and proof of income for the last 13 weeks, as well as their social security information,” she said. “We just want to make sure that no one goes without heat this winter.”

Folks who find themselves facing immediate disconnection of electrical service due to the inability to keep up with power bills may find some assistance through the Ohio Neighbor to Neighbor program.

Launched in 2009, the program is a joint effort between American Electric Power of Ohio and the Dollar Energy Fund, a Pennsylvania-based agency that administers the program for AEP Ohio. Neighbor to Neighbor has helped more than 28,000 Ohio families with nearly $8 million in utility assistance grants since 2009.

“We’ve helped quite a few already this year,” said Jim Tilley, director of Caring Connection on Scammel Street, the agency that helps provide assistance through the Neighbor to Neighbor program locally.

“Since 2010 we’ve assisted 362 families with a little over $84,000,” he added. “So far this year we’ve helped 114 people and provided about $29,000 in assistance.”

Tilley said the program provides up to $500 to stop a disconnect or to reconnect electricity to their homes.

“Usually the Neighbor to Neighbor program is for a last-minute need, when a family is going to have their electricity shut off,” he said. “And you must have been issued a disconnect notice before you can get help from the program.”

Applications for the Neighbor to Neighbor program can be filled out at Caring Connection, 411 Scammel St., in Marietta. Eligibility for the program is based on 250 percent of the federal poverty level. Income for a family of four, for example, would be up to $57,625.

Tilley noted that Caring Connection, a United Way agency, can also provide additional assistance to help area residents keep the heat on in their homes.

“We’ve also provided about $5,000 worth of assistance for homes heated with natural gas,” he said.

Marietta homeowners who meet eligibility requirements can also qualify for some assistance through the city’s Emergency Repair Program (ERP).

The program provides grants up to $4,000 to repair or replace a furnace and other emergency services designed to eliminate threats to the health and safety of low income homeowners.

“This is only for emergency repairs and for people who live within the city of Marietta,” said Lisa Forshey, development office clerk.

She said applications are only taken for single-family dwellings and the applicant has to be the owner of the property. Families have to meet low-income guidelines to qualify. A family of four, for example, qualifies if the total family income is $42,550 or less.

Funding for the program comes out of the city’s annual Community Development Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Forshey said applications for the program are available online at www.mariettaoh.net or can be obtained at the development office on the first floor of 304 Putnam St.