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Federal program available for families grappling with energy bills

David Floyd • May 10, 2020 at 7:36 PM

Local families struggling to pay their home energy bills may be able to turn to a federal program that recently received additional funding under the $2.2 trillion CARES Act.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program recently received an additional $900 million under the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) stimulus package, an allotment a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families said has not yet been awarded.

Shawn Stafford, the outreach coordinator for the LIHEAP program at the Upper East Tennessee Human Development Agency, estimated that he’s seen a 65% increase from March to April in the number of applications handed out across the eight county region that the organization serves.

“The LIHEAP program is there in place to help folks with their energy bills,” Stafford said. “The majority of the folks will utilize that toward their electric bill because that’s usually the highest, but it can be used for other energy sources, whether that’s gas or propane or kerosene or wood or coal. It’s whatever energy burden they use the most.”

The money goes directly to their energy choice, whether that be an electric company, gas company, etc., and acts as a credit on their bill, which can be drawn on monthly.

Due to COVID-19, the agency is asking that people apply online at www.uethda.org. They can also call the central office, 423-246-6180, for assistance.

As COVID-19 restrictions ease, Stafford said the agency has a mobile office that it can use to connect directly to people in the community, and in all eight counties it serves, the organization operates Neighborhood Service Centers, which Stafford said are currently open two days a week.

There is an income requirement for the program, which varies depending on household size. According to the Tennessee Valley Authority, the maximum allowable income for a household of one is $19,140, which increases by $6,720 per additional member.

Stafford said he’s encountered many people who had no idea the agency offered the program and were pleased to hear they could use it as a resource.

“The need is there,” he said.

Just this week, Stafford said the agency has handed out 300 applications, which is compared to 590 applications handed out last month.

“We’re well on pace to exceed last month,” he said.

Stafford said households can only apply for funding once per calendar year.

The Tennessee Valley Authority has been working with power companies to raise awareness of the program and has a website, energyright.com, that can refer individuals to service sites in their area.

“LIHEAP is the key program serving low-income and vulnerable households by reducing their home energy costs,” said Blake Worthington, housing program manager for energy with the Tennessee Housing Development Agency, in a press release issued by TVA.

“Keeping homes cool in the summer and warm in the winter helps families stay safe. As we are all spending more time in our homes, we want to make sure that low-income households are aware of LIHEAP.”

For more information about the program, go to the Office of Community Services webpage: www.acf.hhs.gov/ocs.

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