Reduced heating funding could leave many cold this winter

By Vicki Hyatt | Oct 24, 2013

With winter temperatures predicted to dip this weekend, many could be struggling to stay warm if their heating fuel tank is empty and they don’t have an extra $400 to $500 for the minimum delivery amount of 100 gallons of fuel.

Luckily, it’s a situation Georgia Forney of Waynesville won’t have to face, thanks to an infrared heater that keeps her living room and bedroom toasty warm in all but the coldest weather.

Forney, 83, worked for years for several doctors in the community, and most recently was part of the Mountain Projects Foster Grandparent program, which is where she received her infrared headers.

“It’s a blessing to have this little heater,” she said. “I had oil put in this week, but I don’t use it unless it gets really, really cold. With this little heater, I probably won’t have to put in any more oil until February.”

The best part, Forney said, is the heater made almost no difference in her electricity bill.

Those readying for this weekend’s cold snap will need to come up with about $400 to pay for the minimum 100 gallons of oil, or work out a payment plan.

For those unable to do either, the Haywood County Department of Social Services crisis program operates year around, and there’s a chance an individual could be eligible.

Debbie Brown, the economic services supervisor at DSS, said for a situation to be considered a crisis, temperatures would have to be very low and applicants must be in a situation where they cannot heat their home.

“There has to be some sort of life-threating emergency,” Brown said. “When they apply, we ask questions about their crisis, how they got into this crisis and why were they not able to budget to buy fuel.”

“Temperatures aren’t the only thing we look at, but the outside weather does factor in,” said Carole Edwards, an income maintenance supervisor who oversees the crisis program. “To be in a crisis, it must be extremely hot or extremely cold, but it’s hardly ever hot enough to put somebody in a crisis here.”


Funding plummets

Receiving assistance may be tougher this year simply because of the drastic reduction in the amount of federal funds made available through the state. Last year, the heating/cooling program was funded at $337,000. This year’s projection is for $218,000.

Though local agencies must follow the policy guidelines in providing assistance, there have been gray areas allowing for more lenient interpretations. With so much less funding, Edwards said the department would be using a stricter interpretation to stretch the available funding as far as possible.

“If they fell they truly are in a crisis, we will do an assessment and determine if they meet the criteria,” Edwards said, noting the policy states that a crisis needs to be alleviated within 18 to 36 hours.

A household can receive a maximum of $600 per year for heating assistance and the assistance must be tied to their main heating source, which does not allow for funds to be used for the purchase of the infrared headers many find so cost-effective.

The DSS program funding can also help pay a portion of an electricity bill providing an individual has a disconnect notice.

Both Brown and Edwards said projections call for a cold winter, which makes partnering with other agencies in the community even more important.

“We’re working on a way to not necessarily share info, but make sure we do serve clients in a way we don’t duplicate effort,” Edwards said.


Other partners

The Haywood Christian Ministry emergency heating assistance program is the second significant pool of funds available to offset crisis situations when it comes to staving off the cold. This program doesn’t open until Nov. 1.

Proceeds from the annual Haywood Christian Ministry Golf Tournament are dedicated to the winter heating assistance program, an event that has generated $126,000 to be used to help keep homes warm this winter, said Lisa James, executive director of Haywood Christian Ministry.

The amount is less than the $151,000 the agency was able to spend on the heating program last year. Additional funding for this year is expected from the Million Coin Campaign: Cash Conquers Cold effort that will wrap up at the end of November.

To qualify for assistance, there must be a preschooler in the home, or someone age 65 or older with a life-threatening illness as documented by their physician, said Rusty Wallace, the ministry’s assistant director.

All those asking for help are well below the 150 percent of poverty level guidelines — an amount that means income for an individual would be $14,000 annually, or a $18,000 annually for a couple, said James. Anyone who qualifies for food stamps or disability would meet the standard.

Other agencies and churches in the county pitch in as they are able, James said. When there is a need Haywood Christian Ministry can’t meet, The Open Door, The Salvation Army and some of the churches that support the agency can help.

Mountain Projects is another agency where help can be found. The agency offers a wood program where those with stoves or fireplaces who qualify for the program can have split firewood delivered to their home.

Executive Director Patsy Dowling is a firm believer that the infrared heaters offer the best hope for keeping warm not just for one winter, but for the several years the heaters can be expected to last. The heaters cost $135 each, and she has a waiting list started of individuals, most of whom are elderly and living on a very low fixed income, that would face a winter of cold without them.

To contribute to the heating programs, send donations to:

Haywood Christian Ministry, 150 Branner Ave., Waynesville, NC 28786 or Mountain Projects, Inc., 2251 Old Balsam Road, Waynesville, NC 28786.

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