MOUNT VERNON — The cold of mid-to-late winter is never a good time for families or individuals to have their prime heating source shut off for falling behind in payments — but it happens more than one might think.
In Knox County, one non-profit agency handling especially large numbers of those winter scenarios is the Kno-Ho-Co Ashland Community Action Commission. Based in Coshocton and serving four counties including Knox County, Kno-Ho-Co provides wintertime heating assistance to those in need.
Knox County is served by a small office on South Main Street with two case managers and a receptionist.
Two of the assistance programs are the federally funded regular HEAP (Heating Assistance Program), and the HEAP Winter Crisis Program. In Ohio, the funds are administered by the Ohio Development Services Agency and its Office of Community Assistance. Those who apply must meet income guidelines.
“The vulnerable populations we serve always need assistance with home heating costs,” whether it is a particularly harsh winter or not, said Pamela Wright, community services administrator with Kno-Ho-Co.
The Winter Crisis Program aids those who experience or are about to experience a utility shut-off of their prime heating source, which can include electricity, gas or another heat source. Though this winter’s January was not as harsh as last year’s, persisting cold temperatures into February and March can create a heating bill some just cannot afford.
“So far in the 2020 HEAP Winter Crisis Program our four-county agency has served 1,320 households, 383 of those from Knox County,” Wright said. “This compares to 533 (in Knox County) served in 2019; however, we still have nearly 2 months left in this year’s program.”
HEAP ends March 31. Since Nov. 1 of last year, the HEAP Winter Crisis Program has provided $151,744 in benefits to those who have needed home heating assistance. That compares with $172,461 from Nov. 1 through March 31 of last year. Families can earn up to 175 percent of federal poverty guidelines to qualify for the winter crisis program, which for a family of four must be at or below $45,062.50. The amount of assistance for those in a shut-off situation varies depending on whether the family’s heat source comes from a regulated gas or electric utility — up to $175 in that case — or uses an unregulated heat source, with that benefit being up to $750. The program also assists those on bulk fuel like a propane tank or fuel oil, with that benefit being up to $900, an increase over last year’s $750, Wright said.
The regular HEAP program is also going strong this winter, Wright said. It provides a one-time per year payment on a family or individual’s primary heating source for those whose income is up to 175 percent of federal poverty guidelines. Those who sign up for the HEAP Winter Crisis Program are also signed up for the regular HEAP program.
Kno-Ho-Co caseworkers also make an effort to help applicants sign up for the PIPP (Percentage of Income Payment Plan) for their regulated utilities. It requires those who qualify to pay six percent of their gross monthly income toward their bills. The program pays the rest. Those qualifying can earn up to 150 percent of federal poverty guidelines.
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