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Less $$ available for low income families

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By Jamie Baker-Nantz

Families who depend on a federal program to keep their heat on in the winter, may find themselves out in the cold this year.

This year, LIHEAP or Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, is expected to only have enough funds for about two weeks. The Community Action Commission administers the LIHEAP program and typically has enough funds to last three months.

Crisis assistance funding begins Jan. 4. If additional funding is not approved by Congress, the “crisis phase” of LIHEAP statewide will see similar cuts. LIHEAP is funded by a federal grant.

“We don’t know our final crisis allocation for the LIHEAP. Congress is working on an omnibus spending package that includes LIHEAP, but final amounts have not been approved,” said Jennifer Belisle, deputy director of the

Northern Kentucky Community Action, which oversees the Grant County Neighborhood Center.
Belisle said there have been years where the program simply ran out of money and was closed, but was then able to re-open when more funding was released from Congress.

Last year, the Grant County Neighborhood Center helped more than 1,100 families during the winter of 2010-11.

Last winter, $41 million was allocated for the crisis phase. It is intended to help low-income people facing a heating emergency, such as a disconnection of service, empty propane tanks or eviction if utilities are part of their rent payment.

Low-income is defined as households at or below 130 percent of the poverty level.

One of the ways community action has weathered cuts before is to use federal economic stimulus money to weatherize more homes in the area.

“This helps families reduce their heating costs so they don’t face a heating crisis,” said Belisle. “We’ve also stepped up our educational messages to help families conserve on their utilities and budget for winter heating costs when assistance funds are not available.”

The CAC is also hoping that more customers of Duke Energy and Owen Electric will give through their WinterCare programs, which allow customers to add money to their utility bill to help low-income residents with heating costs.

“It is a huge help to have local, private funding to extend Federal resources such as LIHEAP,” Belisle said.