The federal shutdown has delayed the start of the winter heating subsidy program administered by Community Action of Southern Kentucky.
Tentatively, it looks like Commun-ity Action Community Services offices around the region will begin taking applications for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program on Nov. 12. On that day, only households headed by someone with the last name beginning with an A may apply for help. Most days, the office will deal with just one letter of the alphabet through Dec. 17. The exceptions are Nov. 27, a staff day; Nov. 28-29, when the office is closed for Thanksgiving; Nov. 19 for D and E; Nov. 26 for I and J; Dec. 9 for O, P and Q; Dec. 16 for U, V and W; and Dec. 17 for X,Y and Z.
“We were supposed to have started on Nov. 4, but that was delayed one week and a day because of the shutdown and then Veterans Day,” said Cheryl Allen, CEO of Community Action. “But the state has not yet received its funding letter from the Cabinet for Health and Human Services. ... There is a meeting set for next week to confirm the start date of the program.”
Allen said the agency has been receiving calls from residents who have come to rely on the once-a-season payment. The agency normally would have taken pre-applications from people who are on fixed incomes and have a metered source of energy in mid-October.
“But we had to cancel all of those appointments because we didn’t know when we would be getting the money,” Allen said.
Allen said she doesn’t know if there will be enough turnaround to get people hired when the application process starts. Anyone who wants to volunteer at the Warren County office or in any other county should call Charity Parrish, public information coordinator for the agency.
“We need volunteers who want to be greeters, answer the phones and make copies,” Allen said. “Normally we hire people to do those jobs, but we couldn’t go ahead and hire them when we didn’t know when the program would start.”
The subsidy portion of LIHEAP will provide a voucher for a portion of a utility bill based on a family’s income and size.
The average household may qualify for $100 vouchers, according to Parrish.
People don’t get actual cash. They get a voucher to give to a utility that cashes in the voucher with the agency. But it frees up money that residents can spend on groceries, medicine or other items.
“It puts money back into the economy,” Allen said.
Last year in Warren County, the agency assisted 1,338 households with $165,720. Outside of Warren County, assistance totaling $761,236 went to 5,662 households.
“I know that there is still plenty of need,” Allen said. “I encourage people to take advantage of this, but so many of our elderly and working families have too much pride to ask for help. But when people can’t heat their homes and families, they sometimes resort to unsafe and unhealthy ways of heating that can result in carbon monoxide poisoning and can result in fires.”
Anyone who is at or below 130 percent of the poverty level and has proof of a utility bill or proof that their utilities are included in rent may qualify for the subsidy.
“They don’t have to have a cutoff notice or be in danger of losing their source of heat in a few days,” Allen said, noting those are the components required for the crisis component of LIHEAP, which doesn’t start until after the first of the year.
While Allen has tentative figures about how much money is expected to be available for the region, it’s possible that funding for the crisis component may be cut.
“We have $846,400 in benefits supposedly coming for the subsidy portion.” she said. “But we don’t know anything about the crisis component. Congress hasn’t awarded the funding for that yet.
“Last year we didn’t turn anyone away for the subsidy,” Allen said. “We did deny some because they weren’t income eligible. But of all the families who applied and met eligibility, we didn’t have to turn anyone away. That’s a blessing. This year we are not sure if that will be the case.”
— When residents sign up, they should bring their most recent utility bill or proof from landlord that it is part of rent; proof of income; and Social Security or residency cards for everyone in the household. The Warren County office is at 171 Center St. Anyone wishing to volunteer should call Parrish at 782-3162. For more information about office addresses in other counties, go to casoky.org.