More homes getting heat aid

Posted March 04, 2009, at 9:48 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — According to the Maine State Housing Authority’s latest update, Maine’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program has provided home-heating aid to more households statewide since October 2008 than it had by this time last year.

Jo-Ann Choate, assistant director of energy and housing services at MaineHousing, said Wednesday that the number of households served by LIHEAP through Feb. 26 was 52,038, compared with 46,000 households served by that date in 2008.

An estimated 70,000 households are expected to receive funding from LIHEAP this winter.

Despite the numbers this year, however, federal LIHEAP funding is expected to decrease in the future.

“The president has cut funding for the program for next year,” Choate said. “Potentially, we would have to look at decreasing income guidelines, the number of households served and the benefit levels provided.”

LIHEAP funds are given annually in the form of grants to states by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the purpose of providing discount fuel prices, weatherization services, debt forgiveness and emergency relief to households in need. In Maine, the Maine State Housing Authority administers the funds.

Maine households are eligible for LIHEAP funds if the total household income is less than or equal to 200 percent of state poverty guidelines. Some households with higher incomes may qualify under certain conditions, such as if a family member is 24 months old or younger or 60 years of age or older.

As of MaineHousing’s Feb. 26 update, the Community Action Agencies that process LIHEAP applications across the state have received 64,677 applications for fuel assistance since July 2008. Of this number, 6,398 applicants have been declared ineligible and 6,241 have yet to be processed.

The update states that $47,728,019 of the $66,620,000 in LIHEAP funds has been distributed to applicants thus far.

An additional $2,500,000 in emergency funds have been allocated to assist households with less than one-quarter of a tank of fuel or those in acute danger of having their utility services disconnected. LIHEAP has distributed $1,124,901 in emergency fuel funds this winter at a maximum benefit of $400 per household.

According to the procedure outlined in its LIHEAP brochure, MaineHousing sends payments directly to participating fuel vendors, who in turn provide fuel for an estimated 7 cents per gallon less than the average cash price at the time.

The expected average benefit per household for this year is $940, a total Choate said will fluctuate depending on each household’s size, income, energy costs, fuel consumption and the type of fuel used.

MaineHousing’s Community Action Agencies will continue to accept LIHEAP applications for heating and emergency assistance through April 30, Choate said.

For more information about LIHEAP, including a list of Community Action Agencies and participating fuel vendors, visit www.mainehousing.org.

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