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. The program opens to the general population in January.
With temperatures in the 70s Tuesday across Hall County, it seemed odd to see dozens of seniors waiting to apply for help paying their heating bills at the Legacy Link office in Oakwood.
But the forecasts for a cold, wet winter, spurred on by a strong El Niño, are a reminder of what’s likely to come in January, February and March.
Martha Hunter said her furnace went out last year during a cold spell. That memory was visceral as she shook at the thought.
The federally-funded Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program distributes money to local community action agencies to cover heating bills for those in need.
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.
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.
Depending on income and household size, qualified applicants like Hunter receive between $310 and $350 to pay their bills.
For the elderly, disabled and low-income, that money is nothing short of a lifeline.
RD Martin, 73, lives on a fixed income like many of those who participate in the program.
He said this is the second year he has received financial support for his heating payments.
Though fuel costs have dropped in the last year, these bills remain “costly” to those living on Social Security and disability checks.
And because Social Security recipients will not receive a cost-of-living raise next year, the energy assistance program becomes even more vital, participants said.
Hall County Community Resource Coordinator Shanna Cotton said she expects demand for assistance to be as high as ever over the next few months.
Recent years have seen a new influx in the kinds of people looking for assistance, from more elderly and disabled to struggling working-class families.
Cotton said 150 seniors had been approved for assistance on Monday and she expected about 200 individuals to apply on Tuesday. She expected that same number each day for the rest of the week.
The program opens to the general public in January.
Cotton hopes the program will open earlier in coming years.
It was actually delayed from November to December this year, but Cotton said some households face the prospect of having their power cut off if assistance is continually delayed.
“At least they’re not waiting out in the cold today,” she said.