There had been 300 applications approved as of early Thursday to receive energy assistance through the Sampson County Department of Social Services as part of this year’s Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP), an ongoing application process that began Dec. 1.
The county is halfway to the total number of households it approved last year, and also about half of the way through its total allocation. There were nearly 600 households approved last year, with a total allocation of around $153,000 — the county does not have those type of funds this year.
“Our LIEAP allocation was $124,402, and as of this minute we have approved 300 applications for a total of $65,300, and we have denied 34, leaving us a balance of $59,102,” said Erma Thornton, income maintenance administrator for Sampson County DSS. “Of course we still have some applications that we have taken that have not been processed (approximately 98) as of Thursday morning. If all of these applications were to be approved at just $200, that will deplete another $20,000.”
Payments to the vendors are either $200, $300 or $400, based on the number of people in the applicant household and the household’s income, said Thornton.
Through the federally-funded LIEAP, eligible candidates receive a one-time cash payment to help pay utility costs, notably heating bills. Counties are given an allocation each year and, like other counties, Sampson saw theirs dip dramatically last year, at which time new rules also did 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.
There is no automatic eligibility and all interested households must make an application. Priority will be given to households containing a disabled person that is also receiving services through the Division of Aging and Adult Services, or to a household in which a member is age 60 and older. Funding is limited, and all potentially eligible households may not be approved, DSS officials said.
Thornton said those rules remain the same this year.
As it was last year, only households in a “priority group” are potentially eligible from Dec. 1, 2012 to Jan. 31, 2013. To be considered “priority group,” a household must contain an individual age 60 or older or contain a disabled member (who receives Social Security Disability, Supplemental Security Income, VA Disability) that also receives services through the Division of Aging and Adult Services.
If there is funding remaining as of Feb. 1, any household may apply until the funding is exhausted through March 31, 2013. Just two weeks into the LIEAP year, Thornton said the application process has gone well.
“Overall the process has gone smoothly,” she said.
Last year, 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 last year.
“I have not heard any talk about an addition allocation for this year,” Thornton noted.
Even without the reallocation, Sampson is on pace to fund as many households as it did last year — and with less money. And much less money than it has had at its disposal historically.
More than 3,400 households received LIEAP checks in Sampson two years ago, 2,950 of which were pre-approved Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) households who were automatically eligible, making up 87 percent of the program. Without automatic eligibility and with new rules in place with a lowered allocation, just 17.6 percent of the applications — not necessarily the same exact households — from the previous year were able to be funded.
Applications were taken last week at Sampson County Department of Aging Nutrition Sites, including Garland Senior Center, Butler Court Center and the Roseboro Nutrition Site. Sampson County DSS will take applications from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Sampson County DSS, located at 360 County Complex Road, Suite 100, in Clinton.
At a minimum, applicants should have a form of identification and the name of the household’s heating vendor and the account number when applying.
Those with questions are asked to call the Sampson County Department of Social Services, at 910-592-7131 ext. 3225.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.