Emergency funding available for heating bills

Erin Roof

Ohio’s Temporary Aid to Needy Families fund has doubled the amount allocated to Portage County’s Emergency Home Energy Assistance Program, said David Shea, the executive director of Portage County’s Community Action Council. Portage County residents have until March 31 to apply for the assistance through the Community Action Council.

This additional funding brought the total amount E-HEAP could allocate for the 2005-2006 heating season to $460,000. Statewide, this additional funding has allowed heating aid to 70,000 more families, said Shana Eiselstein, a representative from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio’s outreach center.

Despite rising heating costs, bills haven’t been as pricey as consumers anticipated, Eiselstein said.

“I don’t think it was as bad as people expected it to be based on the report the Department of Energy put out in the fall,” she said. “Prices were higher but not as high as expected. Plus the winter wasn’t as harsh as expected.”

According to the commission’s Web site, Dominion East Ohio, Portage County’s main natural gas provider, has the current rate for natural gas per thousand cubic feet at $13.83. Some of the rising cost is a result of the fall’s devastating hurricane season, Eiselstein said.

So far this heating season, from Nov. 1 to March 31, 2,054 families have used E-HEAP funds in Portage County. Shea said the amount is up 40 percent from last year.

Overall, Shea said he believes there are 11,000 people in Portage County who would be eligible for the regular HEAP program, which assists residents through the entire heating season, instead of E-HEAP’s aid, which can only be used once per heating season.

To be eligible for E-HEAP assistance for a family of four, they must show proof of income less than $33,500, Shea said. The program is open to all residents of Portage County, including students, Shea said.

“As long as you have a utility bill in your name, you can apply,” Shea said.

Applicants must also show a heat disconnection notice or have less than a 10-day supply of bulk fuel, Shea said. Applicants can receive up to $175 for natural gas or $325 for fuel oil. Shea said people interested in the program must schedule an in-person interview at Community Action Council, located at 1036 W. Main St. in Ravenna.

One way people can lessen the impact of rising heating costs is to weatherize their homes, says Rebekah Wright, operations manager for Wright Heating and Cooling, located at 418 N. Water St. in Kent.

“Make sure windows and doors are sealed tightly for caulking,” she said. “Some people like to use plastic covering (for windows). It sticks temporarily for wind block.” Wright also suggests having heating systems maintenanced annually.

Contact public affairs reporter Erin Roof at [email protected].