Agencies collaborate to keep Polk County warm

Published 4:56 pm Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Maintaining warmth in a home, even in the mildest of winters, often cripples the pocket books of families and the ability of agencies like the Polk County Department of Social Services to assist.

Polk County DSS has seen a significant decrease in funding for heating costs this year, said DSS Director Lou Parton, and they are relying on local organizations to step in and ensure the elderly especially are protected from winter’s chill.

“This is a community situation that needs a community solution,” Parton said. “Yes, we administer the funds that come from the state and feds but that is not sufficient to meet the needs of the community.”

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Heating assistance from the Low Income Energy Assistance Program or LIEAP becomes available Monday, Dec. 3 through the Polk County Department of Social Services (DSS).

“With the LIEAP funds we anticipate that we’ll be able to serve around 100 households,” said Lou Parton, director of Polk County DSS.

In the past, individuals on food stamps were automatically approved for a LIEAP payment based on how much heating their home cost, Parton said. A program calculated the allocated amount based on an individual’s heating bills.

Through this system, DSS served 709 households via a supplemental check in February of 2011.

Last year, DSS served only 108 households – a dramatic drop – because of a loss of more than $150,000 in funding, Parton said.

During the state’s fiscal year 2011-2012, several Crisis Intervention Program allocations enabled the agency to utilize $97,742 to assist 282 Polk County households. CIP funding received this fiscal year has only amounted to $56,462, utilized in assisting 189 households from July 1 – Oct. 19, 2012.  For fiscal year 2012-2013, only $24,940 has been authorized. Depending on the heating source, the funds will serve about 100 households.

“Our CIP funds are gone and our LIEAP fund won’t go far,” Parton said. “We always get an initial allocation around August and this year what we got is what we got. They said we may not get any more.”

DSS plans to accept applications for assistance from LIEAP through Jan. 31, 2013, but there are restrictions. An individual must be 60 years of age or a disabled adult to receive the funds. Payments will be made directly to the vendor in the amount of $200 or $400 depending on the source of heating.

The funds are available on a first-come, first serve basis. If funds are not exhausted for this population of individuals the monies will become available to all other households Feb. 1, 2013 – March 31, 2013.

Meanwhile agencies like Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry want people to know they can also lend a hand.

“We’re able to help in this time of cold weather and shortage of government funding. We have limited resources, but we will spread those resources as much as we can. When we see the need is greater than we have the ability to fund, we will ask the community for further help,” said Outreach Executive Director Carol Newton.

The trick for most of these organizations is the ever fluctuating cost of heating fuel.

“Everybody’s need is different – everybody’s bill is large. A $300, a $400, a $500 bill is not uncommon these days,” Newton said.