clintonnc.com

More local households get help with heating bills

By Chris Berendt Staff Writer

March 19, 2014

Despite a cold winter that has overtaken Sampson County, just as it has the rest of the South, funds received by the county to assist low-income homes with their heating costs are still very much available.


Nearly half of Sampson’s local Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) allocation, totaling $445,086, was still left as of Tuesday, about three and a half months after the Sampson County Department of Social Services began taking applications for the funding.


“We have until March 31 to still take applications,” said Gina Hamilton, income maintenance program administrator for the Sampson County DSS. “We still have $196,986 left.”


With nearly $200,000 still on the table, the program has already assisted more households than it did all of last year.


DSS began taking applications at the beginning of December 2013 for LIEAP, a program that provides for a one-time vendor payment to help eligible households pay their heating bills. Thousands of families have taken advantage of the opportunity over the years. In order to receive funding under the program, households must submit to an income test; be responsible for its heating bills; cannot have resources over $2,200; and must include a U.S. citizen or an eligible alien.


Bolstered by a higher allocation than in previous years, Sampson DSS has already assisted more residents under the program than it did all of last year.


“We have taken 1,452 applications,” said Hamilton. “We have approved 1,038 and denied 281.”


In 2011-12, the initial allocation from the state was just $108,286, an 85 percent drop from the $716,620 distributed for utilities assistance at the end of 2010. A reallocation of $45,000 brought the total county allocation to more than $153,000, helping to ultimately fund an approved 594 households that year.


The county’s total allocation of $208,930 last year was a 36 percent increase over 2011-12’s allocation, leading to 882 households receiving assistance, a 49 percent rise from the previous year.


This year, the allocation of $445,086, and the already funded application, put the county on pace to assist close to 2,000 households. The 1,038 approved applications are already a nearly 18 percent rise from the total amount funded last year, and a 75 percent spike from two years ago.


All interested households must make an application. For the first two months of the program, through Jan. 31, only priority households — those containing a disabled person who is also receiving services through the Division of Aging and Adult Services, or to a household in which at least one member is age 60 and older — were eligible for funding.


Any household is now eligible through March 31, 2014, or until funding is exhausted.


For more information, call the Sampson County Department of Social Services at 910-592-7131 extension 3225.


Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at cberendt@civitasmedia.com.