Mother Nature continues its firm winter grip on Indiana, and energy costs are stressing already-stretched budgets. But there is still plenty of time for low-income residents to apply for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
According to Ed Gerardo, director of the Indiana Community Action Association, the brutal weather has more Hoosiers looking for help.
"I think the program is running well ahead of last year," he said. "Last year was an abnormally warm winter. This is an abnormally cold winter and it's driving people in."
LIHEAP provides a one-time benefit for heat and electric bills and homeowners must be at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level to be eligible. It's estimated that more than 97,000 Indiana families already have received assistance this year. The program runs through May.
Donna Billiard Wright, chief community programs officer at the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, said that this year the state allocation for home energy assistance is $73 million.
"At this point, we have most all of it out throughout the state, just trying to realign it as agencies start to run low," she said. "We project that we would have enough to at least get through the May heating season, through May 17."
Until March 15 there is a moratorium period, during which utilities cannot disconnect service to any households eligible to receive energy assistance. But Lynell Westbrook, community programs officer at the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, said it only applies to regulated utilities, such as electricity or gas.
"Unregulated utilities are not covered under moratorium, which is why we released emergency assistance for those households so that they can save more," she said.
There are Community Action Agencies serving all counties in the state which can help residents apply for assistance.
More information is available by calling 800-872-0371, or online at http://www.in.gov.ihcda.
Additional information about the program is at: http://liheap.org/?page_id=460