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Keeping the hearth warm: State program provides heat security for low-income households

Winter may be warmer than usual this season, but those who fall more susceptible to the cold have some recourse for when the deep freeze strikes. The North Dakota Department of Human Services oversees the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program...

Winter may be warmer than usual this season, but those who fall more susceptible to the cold have some recourse for when the deep freeze strikes.

The North Dakota Department of Human Services oversees the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, which helps North Dakotans keep their houses warm through various means.

“The program provides assistance with heating costs,” said Carol Cartledge, the department’s economic assistance director.

The program also provides weatherization services, furnace maintenance and chimney sweeping services. It relies on local offices, such as Social Services, to determine eligibility and distribute heating assistance services.

LIHEAP operates from Oct. 1 to May 31 each year. During that time, households can apply for eligibility to the program.

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Cartledge said households are eligible for LIHEAP if their combined income is 60 percent of the state median income or lower. For a household of three, she said this comes to $44,717.

Cartledge reported that around 12,400 households used LIHEAP during the last heating season.

She said around 70 percent of those who use the service are part of the vulnerable population. This includes elderly or disabled individuals, or else households with children of five years of age or younger.

According to Marcy Decker, the eligibility supervisor at Stark County Social Services, the number of county citizens who have used LIHEAP so far this heating season is 163.

“That number is low compared to past years,” Decker said, which she attributed to the warmer-than-average winter.

Decker’s office determines applicant eligibility and provides financial support for heating, while Community Action Partnership works to provide weatherization services to the qualified.

Decker said her office works slightly by its own rules in distributing heating assistance.

“Every person residing in the household has to count as a household member,” Decker said, as opposed to those living there temporarily.

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This goes beyond family members and includes roommates sharing a residence, though what assistance is approved is given to one individual, she said.

Decker said all members of a household are evaluated individually to determine how much assistance is given, which is contingent on income and assets.

There are other conditions that Social Services scrutinizes as well, she said. Details such as the number of bedrooms in a dwelling, the type of dwelling and the type of energy supplied for heating are taken into consideration regarding how much assistance should be given, as these determine overall heating efficiency and costs.

Decker said the energy source for heat in a residence in relation to others that power it matter, too. A residence purely energized by electricity, for example, would receive a lower percentage of aid for the electric bill since some of that energy goes toward lights and other appliances.

“We look at a lot of different factors,” Decker said.

Individuals living in dwellings where heating is part of the rent are eligible for what Decker termed a “renter’s benefit,” so long as they weren’t living in subsidized housing.

People can apply for heating assistance at any point within the program’s operating season, she said. However, Decker added they had to be eligible all the way back to the program’s beginning in October, which Social Services actively works to ensure.

Both Cartledge and Decker said they’ve received messages of gratitude from the people they serve through LIHEAP, though Cartledge said this happens more toward the local providers.

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“They’re very grateful for the services they receive,” Cartledge said.

Related Topics: DICKINSONSTARK COUNTY
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