THE WINTER heating season is here.
And for low-income families or retired seniors living on a fixed budget, it can be a stressful time of the year.
As the temperature goes down the heating costs goes up, whether you heat with electricity, natural gas, oil or propane.
Photo Provided by Belmont
THE?WEATHERIZATION?arm of the Community Action Commission of Belmont County can help improve the energy efficiency for income-eligible households.
And that was before the economic downturn.
But there are programs designed to assist needy families make it through the cold winter months.
Locally, the point of contact for those seeking assistance is the Community Action Commission of Belmont County.
There are three key programs available, each with its own merits, that can assist families in Belmont County.
Heating Energy Assistance Program (HEAP)
CAC of Belmont County began taking applications for HEAP on Nov. 1 and one CAC employee admitted that the office has been "swamped" with calls.
Households that fall below 150-percent of the federal poverty guidelines could be eligible for a one-time payment to their utility company.
Since this is an emergency-style payment, certain criteria must be met.
The program is designed to help families in a pinch and the one time payment will help keep the heat on.
CAC recommends making an appointment and bringing the following items to the appointment to expedite the process: proof of three months of all household income, social security cards for all household members, utility bills or fuel oil or propane receipts, depending on heat source.
Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) Plus
PIPP Plus is a new version of the PIPP plan that enables low income utility customers to make their bills more affordable.
To qualify for this program, like HEAP, customers' household incomes must be at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines..
If eligible, customers will pay a reduced amount while still keeping their heat source viable an active.
The amount will depend on your source of heat and income.
While this is greater than the 3-or-5 percent income payment on the previous plan, the change is that the PIPP Plus amount will be paid throughout the year as opposed to customers having to pay the actual bill amount during the summer months.
Also, when PIPP Plus payments are made in full and on time, customers can earn both incentive credit and credit toward any past-due balance.
Home Weatherization Assistance Program (HWAP)
A great way to reduce heating costs is to install upgrades to your home's heating system and help curtail any leakages. Newer products increase efficiency and subsequently, decrease costs.
But these upgrades, depending on the type needed, aren't cheap and are difficult for low-income customers to afford. That's where HWAP comes into play.
Eligible households can receive free weatherization to their homes, including:
The big change with the HWAP program is that households now have to be at or below 200 percent of the poverty guidelines, an increase from 175 percent.
And like HEAP and PIPP Plus, the weatherization arm of Belmont County's CAC isn't lacking for applicants.
''We're busy all of the time, but we're getting a lot of calls now,'' said Dan Redinger. ''We have two crews and work on around 16-18 houses per month.''
Redinger says a lot of new applicants will apply with the state for assistance. He urges those seeking assistance to apply with the local office to get the ball rolling quicker.
''A lot of people assume we know their application has been sent to the state but we have no idea,'' Redinger said. ''We send our own out right to the people, that way we can get the right income verification and get the process started.''
There are hundreds of applicants and the pool only grew larger with the increase in income guidelines for the program. The plan is to eventually get to everyone, but because of the sheer volume, Redinger said a method of determining priority and need is followed.
''If a customer is red tagged, we do those houses first, especially if there are elderly, handicapped or young children in the household,'' Redinger said. ''And we generally send Columbia Gas customers to Columbia's Warm Choice program, because they will cover some of the costs as well.
''But they also have a waiting list.''
General information on the various programs can be had by calling CAC of Belmont County at (740) 695-0293 or (740) 633-6340 for the weatherization program.
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