Heating assistance available

Although southeast Ohio has experienced a mild winter so far, many people are seeking assistance in keeping the heat on in their homes.

“November is always busy. People, for example, who get their gas turned off during the summer realize that winter is coming and they need to get the heat turned back on,” Brandy Nau, community services manager for Washington-Morgan Community Action in Marietta, said Tuesday. She also said the agency has gone to an appointment system this year and still has many people coming in for help, both by appointment and walk-in.

The agency is the local distributor for HEAP – Home Energy Assistance Program – funded by the federal government. The money is intended for low-income people who are either threatened by disconnection from their utilities because they can’t pay a bill or have already been disconnected.

Nau said that in the last quarter of 2018 Community Action helped 777 people get their heat supply assured.

The upper income threshold for people to qualify is 175 percent of the federal poverty level, she said. For the 2019 guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, that would be about $44,000 a year in gross income for a family of four, just over $21,000 for a single person, and just under $29,000 for a family of two.

Nau said the program offers a maximum of $175 in assistance for bills from a registered utility such as AEP or Dominion Energy, $550 for members of the Washington Electric Co-op, and up to $750 for households that use wood pellets, coal or propane for heat.

Caring Connection is a privately funded charity that acts as a “safety net” for people who don’t qualify for other assistance programs, director Jim Tilley said.

“We encourage people to try other programs first,” he said Tuesday. “In some instances, we can refer people to a government program. But, for example, this morning a fellow came in and he had everything covered except the reconnection fee, and we pledged that for him.”

Tilley said applicants are required to have identification, documentation of income and a shutoff notice from a utility. Caring Connection has a slightly higher income threshold – 200 percent of the federal poverty level – and assesses each application individually.

“Normally, we can help. We interview everybody, but there are some instances where we won’t help,” he said. “It’s an individual process, and it’s not guaranteed.”

The agency relies on several sources of non-government funding, he said, including United Way contributions, grants from Sisters Health Foundation and the Marietta Community Foundation, and gifts from individuals, businesses and churches.

In 2018, he said, Caring Connection helped 1,928 individuals, including 213 families made up of more than 900 people who needed assistance with AEP bills alone and another 245 who were referred to AEP’s neighbor-to-neighbor program, funded by contributions from AEP customers and administered by Dollar Energy.

The agency also offers help to people with housing difficulties, such as those in subsidized housing who need to move for reasons ranging from evictions to being in an unsafe environment.

The HEAP program, Nau said, continues to be available through March 31. AEP’s neighbor-neighbor program runs through April 31 and resumes in July for those who need help paying their summer cooling bills. Caring Connection assistance is year-round, and in addition to help with utility bills offers assistance with paying for prescription drugs – which, Tilley said, was the single largest demand it had before the state Medicaid expansion – and preparation of tax returns for low-income individuals and families.

Assistance with winter utility costs:

Washington-Morgan Community Action

•Offers HEAP (Home Energy Assistance Program) grant money to people in distress who make less than 175 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.

•Assistance up to $175 for regulated utility bills, including AEP and Dominion Energy (natural gas), $550 for Washington Electric Co-op customers, $750 for wood pellet, coal and propane.

• For information: 740-373-3745.

Caring Connection

•Offers assistance to those who don’t qualify for other programs, who make less than 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.

•Can advise people on other programs that can help.

•For information: 740-376-9903, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday