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Energy aid program faces delays for unknown reasons
Unexplained lag could impact 1,500 Hall residents who need help with utility bills
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Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program
For more information on LIHEAP, including how to qualify for support, call the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services at 877-423-4746, or the Ninth Opportunity District Inc. in Gainesville at 770-532-3191.

A program that helps low-income, elderly and disabled families pay their heating bills during the cold winter months will start a month late this year for unknown reasons.

The program spent nearly $500,000 last winter to support about 1,500 Hall County households.
And across the state, more than $55 million was spent on the program between November 2014 and April 2015 to assist about 163,000 Georgians.

“We’re just trying to get the word out to the community,” Hall County Community Resource Coordinator Shanna Cotton said about the delay. “We have nothing to operate with.”

The federally funded Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program distributes money to local community action agencies to cover heating bills for those in need.

Depending on income and household size, qualified applicants can receive between $310 and $350 to pay their bills.
To qualify, a family’s annual income must be less than or equal to 60 percent of the median income for a family in Georgia.

That threshold is about $21,000 for an individual and close to $47,000 for a household of five.
The Ninth District Opportunity Inc. in Gainesville has distributed funds for the program to local households for many years, and the demand for assistance continues to grow, Cotton said.

The economic recession, for example, brought in a “whole new level of society” that never had before sought low-income assistance, Cotton said.

“And they’re still coming in,” she added.

The program typically begins in November for those ages 65 and older, but won’t begin until December this year.

And the general population, such as low-income families, is typically allowed to apply for assistance beginning in December, but will have to wait until January this winter.

The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services has provided no details about why the delay has occurred this year, leaving those administering the program feeling frustrated.

“They have given us no explanation,” Cotton said. “I think it’s horrible considering that this program is designed to assist with high winter bills for the fixed-income elderly and disabled.”

With that in mind, Cotton said she thinks the program should open even earlier than normal, well before November, because of the time it often takes for program funds to transfer to clients’ accounts. Sometimes, households receive disconnection notices before the assistance arrives, Cotton said.

“It’s incredibly critical,” she added. “The bills go up for the winter well before this program opens.”