MARIETTA - 'Tis the season of dropping temperatures.
As the red slowly slips from thermometers, many local residents are left worrying about how they will afford rising heating costs. As in past years, several federally funded programs are available to assist eligible families and individuals throughout the cold winter season.
The Home Energy Assistance Program, or HEAP, is one of the most widely used programs locally, said Mary Bayless, senior case manger for the Washington-Morgan Community Action HEAP.
"HEAP is a program designed to help income eligible households one time per season with a credit to their heating bill," she said.
The basic HEAP program runs all year and could also be used to help with cumbersome summer electric bills, said Janet Cesner, assistant deputy chief of the Office of Community Assistance at the Ohio Department of Development.
"As far as HEAP, we have definitely seen an increase in the demand for that program," said Cesar.
Last year, 459,286 Ohioans took advantage of the program, she said.
Aside from HEAP, the Winter Crisis Program is designed to help individuals facing a disconnect during the harsh winter months. It began Nov. 1 and runs through March 31, said Cesner.
The Winter Crisis Program provides up to $175 once a year for the purpose or helping customers keep their heating connected or even reconnect a defaulted account. The program must be applied for in person at Washington-Morgan Community Action. The program is in such high demand that the Washington County location has seen between 50 to 70 applicants on a daily basis since the program began, said Bayless.
For those who use a form of heating other than gas or electric, the program also provides for delivery of kerosene, oil, propane, coal and wood.
Another option for struggling households is the Percentage of Income Payment Plan, or PIPP. As the name suggests, the program puts families on a payment plan based on the last 30 days of income. If the family uses both gas and electric, they are usually asked to pay 6 percent of each bill. If they use only electric, they are asked to pay 10 percent, said Bayless.
The Home Weatherization Assistance Program (HWAP) can provide anything from insulation to heating system repairs to carbon monoxide detectors, said Cesner. It is available to both homeowners and renters, though a landlord's permission is required, she said.
To qualify for HEAP and HWAP, a household must have an annual household income of 200 percent of the poverty level. An individual living alone is eligible if he or she has an annual income of $22,340 or less. For larger households, that eligibility requirement is an additional $7,920 per individual.
To qualify for PIPP, a household must have an annual household income of 150 percent of the poverty level. An individual living alone is eligible if he or she has an annual income of $16,755 or less and larger households can add $5,940 per person to find their eligibility level. No income requirement are required for the WCP, said Cesner.
For more information on assistance programs, visit the Ohio Department of Development's energy assistance website at energyhelp.ohio.gov or call 1-800-282-0880. Washington-Morgan Community Action can be reached at 373-3745 in Washington County or at 962-3827 in Morgan County.
To find out more about available utilities credit, contact your utilities providers.