Local agencies are gearing up for what could be a very busy season as families and individuals try to figure out how to heat their homes while continuing to pay the rent, mortgage, put gas in their vehicles and feed their families.
As the economic crisis bears down on “Main Street USA,” local agencies that will be taking applications for the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) and the Emergency Home Energy Assistance Program (EHEAP) are getting ready to deal with what they believe will be an onslaught of people reaching out for help.
In Lucas County, the Economic Opportunity Planning Association of Greater Toledo, Inc. (EOPA) is expecting a sizeable increase in both HEAP and EHEAP applications when the programs open Nov. 1.
HEAP and EHEAP are federally funded programs administered by the Ohio Department of Development, Office of Community Services (OCS). They are designed to help low-income households meet the high costs of home heating.
HEAP will provide a one-time payment of up to $175 to help defray the heating costs for low income individuals.
EHEAP provides a one-time assistance per season to income-eligible families who have had their utility service disconnected. EHEAP pays up to $175 to maintain or reconnect gas or electric service and up to $950 in bulk fuel for one household.
EHEAP allows for the utility to be reconnected or provides assistance for a minimum of bulk fuel as allowed by the supplier. It will not pay for the tank to be filled completely.
The assistance programs are available from Nov. 1, 2008 to March 31, 2009.
“We are expecting a six to nine percent increase over last year,” Tomeka Rushing, office coordinator for EOPA said. “We served a little over 9,000 households last year which was an 11 percent increase from the previous year due to the fact that the guidelines for qualifying were increased to allow those who are within 175 percent of the federal poverty guidelines to apply.”
To fall within those guidelines, a family of four must not have an income over $36,800, Rushing said.
Another option to help consumers pay their heating bills is the Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP). PIPP is an extended payment arrangement that requires regulated gas and electric companies to accept payments based on the household total gross income.
To qualify for PIPP, a family of four must not have an income greater than $31,000 which is within the 150 percent of the poverty guidelines, Rushing said.
In the past, individuals had to qualify for PIPP in order to get help from HEAP. Although that is no longer the case, those applying for HEAP or EHEAP must sign up for one of the payment plans provided by their utility service.
“You have to enroll in a payment plan to get assistance this year,” Rushing said. “People can enroll for payment plans through our agency. Our agency is only responsible to enroll people on PIPP, though. If someone is going to ask for a different payment plan, we will do the initial paperwork for the plan but they will be responsible to follow up with Columbia Gas or Toledo Edison to complete the payment plan.”
EOPA is strongly suggesting that those who want to apply for HEAP or EHEAP call 1-866-504-7392.
“The 24-hour appointment hotline will inform clients of what documentation they will need to bring with them as well as the date, time and place of the appointment and a confirmation number,” Rushing said. “Once the appointment has been made, the utility company will hold services for the household based on the time and date of their appointment. We are encouraging people who are in jeopardy of losing their services to not stand outside and to make the appointment.”
For households who have already had their utility service disconnected, EOPA will be accepting up to seven walk-ins per day beginning at 8 a.m.
“The walk-ins are on a first come, first served basis,” Rushing said. “We will try to make special accommodations and work other walk-ins around the scheduled appointments if we can.”
Senior citizens who need help will be served through EOPA’s Senior Brokering Program, Rushing said.
The program assists individuals age 60 and older and the permanently disabled with home visits, nutrition, utilities, filling out forms, home maintenance, appliances and more, Rushing said.
“Seniors will be brought in to meet with a senior citizen representative so they do not have to stand in the lines,” she said.
According to Joyce Huntley, director of public relations for WSOS, Community Action Commission Inc., calls for EHEAP are already coming in.
“EHEAP is getting a lot of calls already and the program is not even open yet,” Huntley said. “It’s not good.”
Adding to the problem is a change in the HEAP and EHEAP programs due to funding cuts. “Individuals eligible for PIPP are eligible for either HEAP or EHEAP only, not both,” Huntley said. “In the past, individuals eligible for PIPP could receive benefits from both programs. However, because of the cuts in funding, this is no longer available.”
WSOS operates EHEAP in Wood, Sandusky, Ottawa and Seneca counties. Residents seeking assistance from the emergency program must make an appointment to determine their eligibility.
“Those who need EHEAP must come in for a face-to-face interview,” Huntley said adding that applicants for regular HEAP must file their applications themselves.
WSOS has applications available and the agency can assist residents with the application.
“We are going to do the best we can,” Huntley said. “We are going to try to see as many people as we can in a day. It is a different time now. We may see people who have never applied before.”
WSOS served 2,574 households in the four county area during the 2007/2008 heating season. A total of $589,685 was spent last year for the programs, Huntley said.
To make an appointment for EHEAP help in Wood County, call 419-353-7407; in Ottawa County, call 419-734-2652; in Seneca County, call 419-435-4884; in the Tiffin area, call 419-447-0084; or in the Sandusky County area, call 419-334-5126.
In Lucas County, residents may go to EOPA, located at the EOPA Hamilton Building, 505 Hamilton St. Satellite centers are also located at the Zablocki Senior Center, 3015 Lagrange St., and Lucas County Jobs and Family Services, 3210 Monroe St. The satellite office at the East Toledo Family Center, 1020 Varland, has not been confirmed as yet.