Energy Assistance Fund likely to run short this winter
Kentuckians who rely on federal assistance to help pay winter heating bills should prepare for lower levels of aid during the upcoming heating season, the Kentucky Public Service Commission (PSC) reports. At current federal funding levels, Kentucky will receive about $27 million for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) this winter. That is about $31 million less than the allocation during each of the last two heating seasons. LIHEAP funding had been increased for the last two years in order to provide additional assistance during the economic downturn. This year’s reduction reduces funding to pre-recession levels. Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission provides LIHEAP assistance in the eight Northern Kentucky counties, while the state’s other 22 Community Action Agencies serve the remaining counties in Kentucky. The LIHEAP program operates in two phases. In the subsidy phase, all qualifying applicants – as determined by income and other criteria – receive a predetermined dollar amount that is credited to their utility bills. Users of bulk fuels such as wood, coal, propane or heating oil receive a voucher to purchase fuel. Registration for the subsidy phase this year begins Nov. 7 and ends Dec. 16. The subsidy amount varies with need, based on household income and fuel cost. Pre-registration for families on a fixed income is going on now through November 4.

At the end of the subsidy phase, remaining funds – if any – are allocated to the crisis phase, which begins in January. The crisis phase aids residential customers whose electric or gas service is threatened with disconnection because their bill has not been paid in full.  Users of bulk fuels can receive a voucher when they are down to a four-day supply.

In past years, about 100,000 Kentucky households statewide have received subsidy assistance and 125,000 households received crisis aid. The LIHEAP reductions mean that residential customers need to focus even more on reducing energy consumption and thus the need for heating assistance. If you have the means and want to help others who may be struggling this winter, consider making a contribution to WinterCare on your utility bill.  100% of the donation goes directly to the community action agency serving your county to provide energy assistance for families in need.  Many utilities, including Duke EnergyOwen Electric, and Kentucky Utilities even match customer contributions, up to a certain dollar cap. What can you do now to help avoid a crisis in the winter months when funding may not be available?  Start conserving energy to reduce your energy bills now. NKCAC has produced a variety of energy conservation tips that can provide practical advice on conserving energy throughout the house, and even in the car. For more information on the LIHEAP program contact the NKCAC neighborhood center closest to you.