LUMBERTON — Beginning today, Robeson County residents needing help paying their heating bills will be able to apply for federal money.
The Robeson County Department of Social Services will be taking applications for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program through March 31. The county so far this year has been allotted $980,000 in federal money for the program, according to Sandra Cox, a DSS program manager.
Applications will be taken at the DSS office complex on N.C. 711.
The Low Income Energy Assistance Program provides a one-time annual payment to help eligible families pay their heating expenses, Cox said. Benefits for individual households will total either $200, $300 or $400, with the payment being made directly to the company providing the heat.
Until Dec. 31, to be eligible for the assistance a household must have a person age 60 or older or a disabled individual receiving Division of Aging and Adult Services through DSS. Beginning Jan. 1, applications will be taken for any households, except those of American Indians.
Cox said that the county’s American Indian population must receive their energy assistance from the Lumbee Tribe. The tribe receives its allocation of federal low income assistance money at the beginning of the federal fiscal year, which began in October.
To be eligible for assistance a household must be “vulnerable” at the time of application. A household is vulnerable if it is subject to the rising cost of heating, has its own source of heat, and is billed separately for the cost of heating. Eligibility requirements also require household members to meet an income test and have resources at or below $2,250 when the application is filed, according to Cox.
Those applying for assistance must provide verification of income, bank accounts, and a copy of the household heating bill.
Last year, the county received just more than $1 million in federal money for low-income energy assistance. It spent $643,800 to help with the heating costs for 2,487 households, Cox said.
Cox said that money not expended during the fiscal year must be returned to the government. She urges those who could be eligible for the assistance to file an application.
“Last year, people just didn’t come out and apply,” she said. “…We want to serve as many people as we can.”
DSS also administers the Crisis Intervention Program for those whose heating source will be cut off in 48 hours, said Cox.
“When people come to apply for the Low Energy Assistance Program we also screen them to see if they are eligible for the Crisis Intervention Program,” she said.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.