Government programs help pay heat costs for low-income families

January 20, 1994|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

Heating bills go up in winter, but a fixed income does not rise proportionately.

That's why federal and state agencies have money to help low-income households pay their heating bills, said Kelly Parrish, assistant director of Human Services Programs of Carroll County Inc.

The philosophy of the Maryland Energy Assistance Program is to keep families from having to choose between paying for heat and other essentials, such as food or health care, Ms. Parrish said.

"I have seen cases where people are choosing between medicine and heat," Ms. Parrish said.

Last year, the private, nonprofit agency distributed at least $368,000 to more than 1,826 households in the county.

Ms. Parrish sees no major change this winter. So far, 1,560 households have applied. Most people who need help applied by October, she said.

Ms. Parrish mails forms in August to families that received help the previous winter. An average of 68 percent of households who get help also got it the year before, she said.

To qualify for the Maryland Energy Assistance Program, a family of three can have a gross income of no more than $1,486 a month. Grants vary depending on family size, income and utility costs, she said.

Since November 1993, the average grant has been $242 per family, she said.

"It's designed to pay a portion of a person's heat, to lower the percentage of a household income going toward heat," Ms. Parrish said. "Some people would like it to cover all of the heating cost, but it doesn't."

The program has been able to meet the needs of those who apply, Ms. Parrish said. After the money comes from the federal government, the state Department of Human Resources distributes it to each county, and in turn the county determines how much each applicant may receive.

Last year, when the county allotment fell about $600 short of the total needed, the state made up the difference, Ms. Parrish said.

The money goes directly to the utility or oil company and is credited to the customer's account, Ms. Parrish said.

Renters who don't pay separately for heat may apply. Their landlord has to sign a form to have the grant credited toward the heating bill for the dwelling and must deduct that amount from the rent.

Ms. Parrish said she will take applications through March for the heating assistance. Applicants can call or visit the HSP offices at 10 Distillery Drive in Westminster, 857-2999.

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