Tribune-Courier News Editor
FRANKFORT– Local families struggling to make ends meet received good news last week. On Thursday, Gov. Steve Beshear’s office announced the immediate distribution of $9.5 million in additional federal appropriations for Kentucky’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
“The availability of home heating assistance is critical at this time of the year,” Gov. Beshear said. “More funding means more Kentucky families can apply for assistance to stay warm during the colder months.”
The announcement comes after months of concern by local families and service agencies. Last year it was announced the federal government would greatly reduce the monies available and considered elimination of the program. In Kentucky, funding dropped from $56 million to $28 million. With the latest addition, funds have been higher than feared, rising to $46.6 million.
The funds come following the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services release of additional money to help eligible low-income families meet their home energy needs – bringing the total available funds since Oct. 1, 2011 to $2.6 billion.
Locally, that money is administered through West Kentucky Allied Services, which is one of 23 action services state-wide. Tony Dowdy with WKAS said the announcement would be a benefit to area families, although he had not yet heard how much money the service would receive.
“My concern was that last year we expended $1.8 million,” Dowdy said. “We’re not going to get close to that this year. The amount of money we received this year will probably be 30 to 40 percent of what we received last year.”
In three months of 2011, WKAS dispersed the $1.8 million among 9,434 households. Dowdy said he feared they would only be able to help half as many.
“We weren’t sure we’d have funds come January,” Dowdy said. “Maybe some of our legislators and some of our customers have called and let Washington know how badly we needed this money.”
So far, the initial allocation for WKAS has been $711,000. How much of the additional $9.5 million will make it to western Kentucky will be up to a formula based on unemployment, poverty and other relevant numbers.
Judge Executive Mike Miller said the extra funding would be additional help to families who needed it.
“That’s going to mean more households will be able to benefit,” Miller said. “We were concerned there wouldn’t be enough money if we took a 50 percent reduction.”
LIHEAP’s first winter funding phase, for all eligible families who need heating assistance, ended in December. The program’s crisis phase, for families facing a home-heating emergency, began Jan. 4 and ends March 31 or when funding runs out.
LIHEAP is a short-term aid program available to clients at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. For example, a family of four must have a monthly income of no more than $2,422.
Families applying at WKAS during the crisis component must bring a past due or disconnect notice from their utility provider. Having past due or disconnect notices are not the only criteria that make households eligible for LIHEAP. If an individual or family is within four days of running out of fuel, they may also be eligible for assistance if their primary heat source is propane, fuel oil, wood or kerosene. This provision also applies if they have received an eviction notice for nonpayment of rent and home heating cost is included as an undesignated portion of their rent,
For more information about applying for LIHEAP, visit www.communityactionky.org or call 800-456-3452. To learn more about other family assistance programs, log on to http://chfs.ky.gov/.