COLUMBUS – As autumn’s colder temperatures settle in around Ohio, the HEAP Winter Crisis Program is kicking into gear.
The program assists low-income residents facing possible disconnection from their regulated utility provider by providing a one-time payment of $175 to help heat their homes.
Michele Lucas, director of community services for the HARCATUS Tri-County Community Action Organization, expects the first few weeks of the program to be busy, and asks folks to have patience.
“Everyone has something that is unique about their situation that does need to be addressed in the best way possible, but if people become impatient sometimes it creates delays that are unnecessary,” she points out.
To be eligible, households must have a disconnect notice, have already been disconnected or have less than a 25 percent supply of bulk fuel for heating.
Customers also must be at or below 175 percent of the federal poverty level, which is about $41,000 a year for a family of four.
Lucas explains that the money is there to help the most vulnerable, but she says some people, especially seniors, are reluctant to accept the assistance. She urges anyone with little income flexibility to apply at least for the state’s HEAP program.
“That can give them a little extra boost and maybe some wiggle room when it comes to buying grocery items or medication that they otherwise might do without, or even keeping their homes just a little bit warmer,” she states.
Despite the economic troubles faced by many Ohioans over the past several years, Lucas says she hasn’t seen a trend of increasing demand for the Winter Crisis Program. She maintains that’s because residents are taking advantage of the Percentage of Income Payment Plan Plus, which helps manage energy costs year-round.
“We’re not having to address disconnect issues to the same extent that we did even 20 years ago,” she explains. “It was horrendous, and now people are able to make their payments because it’s based on their income.”
The Winter Crisis Program assisted nearly 150,000 households in 2014.
The program runs through the end of March, and utility customers can apply at a nearby Home Energy Assistance Program provider. There is one in every county.