By Beth Lawrence
The Jackson County Department of Social Services has tools to help those in need stay warm this winter.
Two sources of funding, Crisis Intervention Program and Low Income Energy Assistance Program, help those meeting certain income criteria pay heating bills during winter months. The programs may be all the more needed since the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging and moratoriums on shutting off utilities have been lifted in North Carolina.
“We actually had a decrease … from March until the first of November,” said Pamela Austin, Department of Social Services Income Maintenance Supervisor. “The reason we had the decrease was they had the moratoriums to where the power company couldn’t do cutoffs. Right now, our traffic is really heavy because in October they started sending out the disconnect or cutoff notices.”
CIP is income based and designed to help clients needing assistance with heating bills when losing heat would impact the health of a member of the family.
“Crisis (program) is based on your income in the month you’re having the crisis, what you’re expecting the current month,” Austin said.
To qualify for CIP the household must have a past due balance dating back to the moratorium placed on utility shutoffs earlier this year. A payment plan must be in place with the service provider, but if the person falls behind on plan payments or they do not qualify for a payment plan and are in danger of having services disconnected, they may apply for CIP.
“Regular agreement payments cannot be made by the county,” Austin said. “The county will only be able to assist with the amount needed to alleviate the crisis up to the maximum benefit if all other eligibility requirements are met.”
Some restrictions apply to heating sources other than electricity. Propane users must have 10 percent or less propane in their tank, and wood users must have a supply of three days or less.
Families in Jackson County who are enrolled members of the Cherokee tribe are required to apply for assistance on the Qualla Boundary. Beginning in 2018 funds were split between the tribe and the rest of Jackson County.
The Low Income Energy Assistance Program helps anyone meeting certain income qualifications with heating needs.
LIEAP provides a one-time payment to assist with heating. Payments are made directly to the utility company or contractor.
“It’s for any heat source, and the allotment is determined by the heat source,” Austin said.
Homes with coal or wood are eligible for up to $300. Anyone using propane, natural gas or heating oil heat is eligible for $400. Homes with electric heat could receive $500.
The county received $156,000 in yearly funding for LIEAP and an additional $93,000 as a result of the pandemic. Assistance through LIEAP is available until March 31 or until funds are exhausted.
Disbursement of funds is done in two stages. On Dec. 1 persons 60 or older or those with a disability may apply. On Jan. 1 all others are allowed to apply.
Call DSS at 586-5546 to apply by phone for either program.
On Jan. 2 applications may be submitted through the ePASS website at epass.nc.gov.
Due to the pandemic, some families are eligible to receive LIEAP funds automatically this year. Households that received LIEAP funds in 2019 and are currently receiving food stamp benefits may be eligible for automatic payments.
“Due to the CARES act, we have additional funding,” Austin said. “So it was decided this would be used for the elderly or the disabled who would normally come to apply in December. We, Jackson County, have 199 households that have met the criteria for the benefit.”
Notices of eligibility were mailed earlier this month. Anyone receiving the notice is asked to contact DSS by Nov.25 to verify or update their information.
Those not meeting income requirements or other criteria are referred to other agencies in the county who can help.
“We’ll tell them any resources that we know of,” Austin said.