Last updated: December 26. 2013 4:20PM - 891 Views
By - cberendt@civitasmedia.com

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More than $75,000 has already been distributed in Sampson County as part of a program that assists low-income residents with the cost of heating their home — and there is plenty more funding still available for those who need it with an allocation more than double last year’s amount.

The Sampson County Department of Social Services began taking applications at the beginning of this month for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP), a program that has helped thousands of Sampson households pay their heating bills over the years.

Through Tuesday, Sampson County DSS had taken 493 applications and $75,100 hass been approved as part of LIEAP, said Gina Hamilton, DSS income maintenance program administrator.

LIEAP provides for a one-time vendor payment to help eligible households pay their heating bills. DSS will accept those applications through March 31, 2014, or until funding is exhausted. 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.

Hamilton said the county received an allocation this year of $445,086 and, with $75,100 dispensed in the past three weeks, the county’s current balance is $369,986.

The county expects to be able to assist many more residents under the program, which has been cash-strapped in recent years under a decline in funding. This year’s allocation is a spike compared to that in the past two years, a period that has also seen automatic eligibility for the program go by the wayside.

All interested households must make an application and priority is given to households 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. Only those priority households meeting all other eligibility requirements will be eligible through Jan. 31, 2014.

Any household may be potentially eligible from Feb. 1, 2014 through March 31, 2014, or until funding is exhausted.

Funding is limited, and all potentially eligible households may not be approved, according to DSS officials. However, this year, the funding is not nearly as limited as it has been the past two years.

LIEAP has assisted thousands in Sampson County over the years, even despite a significant dip in its funding allocation in the last two years. When the LIEAP application process changed drastically in 2011, doing away with automatic pre-approval of eligible clients in favor of a modified program that is first-come, first served starting with the most vulnerable clients, Sampson saw its allocation decrease like many others.

However, the allocation has risen the past couple years.

More than 3,400 households received LIEAP checks in Sampson in 2010-11, 2,950 of which were pre-approved Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) households who were automatically eligible. Without automatic eligibility and a lowered allocation, households funded dropped massively in 2011-12.

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 would put the county on pace to fund applications from close to 1,900 households.

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.

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