January has been extremely frigid, with north central Ohio seeing subzero and below freezing temperatures for most of the month. The month of February is right around the corner and so are sadly anticipated higher utility bills. But, for those who meet certain income guidelines, help is out there to defray the high costs of heating a home, apartment or trailer.

Community Action Commission of Erie, Huron and Richland Counties, Inc. (CACEHR), 597 Park Avenue East, Mansfield, administers the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) and the Winter Crisis Program (WCP) for the state of Ohio.

“There is help available,” said Jennifer Jennette, programs coordinator at CACEHR.

There are several programs that can help those who might be experiencing higher than expected heating bills, those who are facing a disconnection notice or even those who whose utilities have been turned off because of non-payment. If you heat with wood or bulk fuel and are totally out or have less than a weeks’ supply, there is help available to get those heating materials as well.

To apply for assistance, call the scheduling line at 1-866-861-6360. The automated appointment line only takes so many appointments a day, so it may take a couple times to get an appointment, Jennette said.

“Just keep trying until you get an appointment,” she said.

Among the programs available, the HEAP program is a one-time assistance payment is applied to the applicants’ main heating source, Jennette said. To be eligible for this program, ones income level must be below 175 percent of the poverty level and being a percentage below the poverty level means that a family income must fall within a certain range. For instance, to be eligible for the HEAP program a family of four could not make more than $41,212.50 a year.

Next, there is the WCP program, which provides assistance once per heating season to eligible households who utilities (gas and/or electric) face disconnection or are disconnected, Jennette said. The applicant must sign up for a payment plan in order to receive up to a $175 payment for a regulated utility (i.e. Columbia Gas, Ohio Edison or AEP). For a non-regulated utility such as the electric in Shelby or Plymouth, the payment will be up to $450. Bulk fuel customers will receive up to $750 for propane or fuel oil and up to $350 can be used for wood to heat.

The WCP program runs Nov. 1 through March 31. To be income eligible for the WCP program, a family of four cannot make more than $41,212.50 a year.

Lastly, there is another plan. The Columbia Gas Fuel Fund, which can only be used after all other available emergency assistance programs have been exhausted. The fund provides up to $250 per heating season for customers.

Jennette said that from November 1, 2012, to January 28, the agency has paid $290,712.99 to help Richland county residents with their utility bills.

“As of today (January 28) we have served 1,091 households,” she said.

In comparison to last year Jennette said the total application count has been lower so far this year.

“The PIPP Plus (payment plan) is keeping people out of disconnection,” she said. “But, we are always booked solid all the time so we remain consistently seeing people.”

The agency’s intake workers see 30 scheduled people a day plus the first four people to walk-in when the agency opens at 8 a.m. In order to qualify to be a walk-in client, a utility must be off or be out of bulk fuel, Jennette said.

Payment plan options are the Percentage of Income Payment Plan Plus (PIPP Plus), the 1/9 plan, 1/6 plan and the 1/3 plan, Jennette said. PIPP Plus is for clients whose income is at or below 150 percent of the poverty level. In this case, a family of four could not make more than $35,325.00 a year. A client may be eligible to pay just six percent of their monthly household income or a minimum of $10 for their natural gas and/or electric bill year around, she said.

The plan includes an arrearage crediting program when a PIPP Plus household pays the monthly PIPP Plus payment on time and in full. Some of the old debt and the rest of that month’s bill will go away in the form of a credit on their utility account. Other payment plan options can be discussed an account representative with the particular utility.

For questions, call CACEHR’s office at 419-589-2520. For appointments, call 1-866-861-6360.

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