Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 23, 2013

Staying warm — Help available to those in need

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— The dangerous wind chills we’ve experienced over the past 24 hours should serve as a reminder that winter is finally here. And for many low-income families in our region, the extreme cold brings renewed financial challenges.

That’s why the state’s Low Income Energy Assistance Program is such a critical resource to families in our region who are struggling to keep their homes warm this winter. And help is available right now. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources began accepting applications Tuesday from the general public for the program. Applications will continue to be accepted through Feb. 1.

A local agency that is helping area families apply for LIEAP assistance is Community Action of South Eastern West Virginia in Bluefield.

“We serve as an outreach for those who cannot get into the DHHR office or are unable to fill out the application and mail it back in,” CASE Executive Director Oraetta Hubbard said last week. “They can come to our offices. We can make arrangements to go to the home as well. Often times, they need help filling out the forms or if they are unable to leave the home. We handle applications for Mercer, Summers and Monroe counties. This is a supplementary program. But for most of the people that participate it is more than supplementary. In many cases, it provides for them the fuel they will need for the winter months. For low-income folks that is very important.”

Area residents seeking more information about the LIEAP program can contact CASE in Bluefield at 304-325-3511. In Monroe County, residents can contact the CASE office in Union at 304-772-3381.

Eligibility for LIEAP benefits is based on income, household size and whether or not the household is responsible for paying its heating bill. Income must be at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty guidelines for the household size. The program is limited to the amount of federal funding allocated to West Virginia under the LIEAP block grant.

Area residents also can take additional steps to help lower their home heating costs. For example, families can save money on their energy bills by taking such simple steps as sealing their homes or signing up for a budget billing utility program.

By utilizing a budget billing program — through gas or electricity — homeowners can help to moderate higher winter heating bills. Such budget billing options help to spread the high cost of winter heating over a period of several months, and helps to lower peak winter heating costs.

Area residents having a tough time with their heating bills should give serious consideration to a utility budget plan. And those who qualify for additional assistance — and have not yet requested help — should do so soon.

It’s only a matter of time before the next snowstorm arrives. In fact, the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Va., is calling for a wintry mix of snow and sleet Thursday night into Friday with snow likely again on Saturday. If you need help keeping your house warm, now would be a good time to consider a budget plan or LIEAP assistance.