The Woodward News

June 28, 2013

DHS offers help to beat the heat

Rowynn Ricks
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — With triple digits already hitting the area this summer, it is increasingly important for people to find ways to beat the heat.

Especially for those who are most vulnerable to heat-related illnesses including the elderly, young children and those already dealing with other illnesses.

However, as the temperature rises, so does the cost of trying to cool your home.  For some lower-income families, this cost can become prohibitive.

But the Oklahoma Department of Human Services is offering those families an opportunity for some cooling assistance.

Oklahoma DHS recently announced that it will be distributing around $16 million in federal funds to help the poorest Oklahomans with their summer cooling bills.

Brenda Wise is the supervisor of the Adult and Family Services program for Woodward County DHS.

Wise said the assistance program is known "for short as LIHEAP for Cooling.  LIHEAP stands for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program."

The purpose of the annual program is to "help folks out, not on an ongoing basis, but with a one-time payment on their cooling bill," she said.

This year, the maximum payment is $120 for single-person households and up to $180 for families of 2 or more persons.

"It doesn't matter if it's 2 or 12, though," Wise said, noting the maximum payment for any sized family is $180.

However, the size of the family does matter when it comes to income guidelines to determine which individuals and families qualify for the LIHEAP money.

For example, a single person has to have a net income of $1,024 or less to qualify, while a family of 4 can have a net income of up to $2,113, Wise said.

"And it goes up from there, increasing with the size of the family," she said.

People can begin applying for the cooling assistance on July 9.

Although, Wise said some people are already pre-qualified.

"A lot of our clients are pre-approved and will automatically receive their approval in the mail," she said.

This includes clients who already receiving other ongoing assistance from DHS such as through "SNAP food stamps program or medical assistance or day care assistance," she said.

Other current clients may not be pre-approved, but may automatically receive a LIHEAP application in the mail, Wise said.  This can include those clients who have gotten new jobs or changed jobs, meaning their income level may have changed, which would affect their eligibility, she said.

"Still there are some people out there who we may not know about who need assistance and they can come complete what is called a walk-in application," she said.

To complete the application, Wise said those seeking assistance will have to provide a copy of their electric bill as well as verification of their income, such as through a check stub.

However, those wanting to take advantage of this program should know that the money is made available on a "first come, first serve basis," she said.

And the almost $16 million in assistance will be up for grabs statewide and will not be divided up with a certain amount going to each county, she said.

"I would encourage everybody to come in on July 9, because once your application is stamped in it will be processed for approval.  But if you wait until July 12 or 13, then they might say that ll the money for the state has been encumbered and we have to stop taking applications," Wise said.

The number of Woodward County citizens receiving LIHEAP assistance each year varies depending on how many applications are processed before the funds become totally encumbered, she said.

"We average about 150 or so, but that's a rough guesstimate, maybe around 200.  It fluctuates," she said.

Wise said she would encourage all low income families to apply for help, but "especially encourage the elderly to apply, just because they are more prone to heat-related illnesses and they are apt to turn off utilities to save money."

She said that's why the LIHEAP for Cooling program is so vital "because it does help people who are vulnerable and may not have cooling when it's over 100 degrees."