Home heating help program sees more participation
by Juliette Rule, Public Information Officer, Wyoming Family Services (opinion piece)
December 2, 2008
Leaves have fallen and snowy days are here. At Wyoming Family Services, we’re giving home heating bills a lot of thought, even as we learn bills won’t rise as dramatically as we thought earlier this year.
While the average resident will see a 25 percent rise in their home heating bill this year, Wyoming Family Services encourages families and elders to get help with their home heating bill every year if they think they’ll need it. We urge them to apply for LIEAP, a state and federally funded home heating help program. Our efforts to encourage LIEAP (lee-ap) participation are even more pronounced this year, thanks to a public and private partnership and a new campaign called Energy Wise Wyoming.
Already we are seeing the results of the Energy Wise Wyoming campaign: Applications are flowing in at record rates.
In mid-November, we saw 10,000 applications for LIEAP filed. Compare that to the 2,000 applications we had on file in mid-November 2007. In total, LIEAP helped 11,000 households in Wyoming cover the cost of home heating bills in winter 2007-08.
In response to the economic conditions, Congress passed the Economic Stimulus Act, which in turn gave Wyoming an opportunity in October to expand income guidelines and qualify more people for LIEAP.
Even with more money and more applications, we are confident we can meet the home heating needs for those qualifying for this program. We know the program will see an unprecedented number of applications approved, and still we’re confident we can help families and elders with their home heating costs.
In case you missed it, the new LIEAP income qualifications look like this:
-A single person qualifies at $2,326 gross income a month
-A two-person household qualifies at $3,041 a month
-A three-person household qualifies at $3,757 month
-A four-person household qualifies at $4,472 a month
-A five-person household qualifies at $5,188 a month
In comparison to the income guidelines used earlier this year, the expanded income guidelines meant that a Wyoming household could bring in an average of $600 more each month and still qualify for LIEAP. (Interestingly, other states’ LIEAP income guidelines remain considerably lower in comparison to Wyoming.)
The Energy Wise Wyoming campaign’s interest in LIEAP and encouraging people to apply or encourage others they know to apply is very much about safety. We know cramped financial times brings more stress, especially when bills aren’t paid. We know financial stress contributes to (though it is by no means a cause) to domestic violence, child abuse and neglect. Others experiencing a shrinking budget might lower the thermostat to a degree that just isn’t comfortable or safe.
Safety can reach a dangerous level when bills don’t get paid and a shut-off is being threatened. Some experience a financial catastrophe and suddenly realize they can’t pay their heat bill. They get behind and well before the coldest days give way to spring, they’re facing a shut-off from their utility provider.
For those folks, there’s a CRISIS program, and through it, applications are fast-tracked to quickly resolve the bill with utility companies. We owe Wyoming fuel providers a big thank you for the work they do to help upset customers solve their bill-paying problem. Sure, they have a built-in incentive (they want the bill to be paid) but so do our communities - we want everyone to be safe and that means warm during Wyoming’s winter months.
You can print an application for LIEAP and get information about the program by going to DFS’ Web site, http://dfsweb.state.wy.us. You can have an application mailed to you by calling 800-246-4221, weekdays 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. You can also call that number and get answers about filling out the application and the status of your application.
It’s true that many in Wyoming already have thought about their home heating bill. If you haven’t, the time to think about it is now.
Tony Lewis is Director of Wyoming Family Services, which administers LIEAP and other programs to help Wyoming communities, children, families and elders lead healthier, safer lives.
The Energy Wise Wyoming campaign is produced by a coalition of state agencies including the Department of Family Services, the Wyoming Public Service Commission, the State Energy Office, the Governor’s Office and the private non-profit Wyoming Energy Council.