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Tri-county area to receive $150,000 in energy assistance

Thursday, January 6, 2005

Indiana received more than $4.5 million in additional funding to help low-income Hoosier families stay warm this winter.

The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA) received an additional $2.5 million for its Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) as well as more than $2 million in federal emergency funds. The newly received funding brings the total assistance available to low-income families in Indiana to more than $50 million. FSSA originally expected to receive only $46 million for LIHEAP.

The federal emergency funds are part of $100 million released nationwide by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. Last winter, FSSA distributed $47 million in energy assistance to help nearly 126,000 families.

Although exact figures have not been released, Marlene Swan, Energy Assistance Coordinator for Western Indiana Community Action Agency (WICAA) at Terre Haute, estimated $150,000 will be disbursed to Clay, Putnam and Vigo counties.

"It's not for people who have already applied. It's for new applicants," she explained. "The last two or three years we've had enough money."

Depending on income, Swan said another 500-1,000 households will be able to receive energy assistance because of the additional funding. Since November, WICAA has been able to assist 2,341 households in the three counties. Last year, the agency helped 4,657 households. Of those, 817 were in Clay County.

"So we're about halfway there," said Swan, who also noted the only people turned away were those with disconnects.

The elderly and/or disabled, families with children under age six, families on disconnect status or at risk of being disconnected and needy families whose bulk fuel tanks are empty, are encouraged to apply for LIHEAP.

Funds are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis to families who earn less than 125 percent of the federal poverty level-or $23,563 a year for a family of four.

Assuming normal weather conditions, the average Indiana gas heating bill could still increase 28 percent from last year, according to projections from some major state natural gas utilities. Below normal temperatures could result in even greater costs.

State law prevents state-regulated utilities from disconnecting services from Dec. 1 through March 15 to families who apply and qualify for state energy assistance.

The amount of heating assistance varies per family and is based on household utility costs, family income and other factors. Typical benefits this winter will range from $100 to $335. The average family will receive $245.

Families can apply for LIHEAP at Indiana's 24 Community Action Agencies. The agencies also accept mail-in applications or make alternate arrangements for homebound clients. Contact Energy Assistance Coordinator Marlene Swan at 1-800-777-9427 or at Western Indiana Community Action Agency, P.O. Box 1018, Terre Haute, IN 47808-1018.

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