The local office is now scheduling appointments for those who want to receive help from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps low-income individuals pay for heating costs by sending checks on their behalf to energy companies.
Although the program receives funding from the federal government, which is in a shutdown due to concerns about the federal budget, program coordinator Jacqueline Westfield said the office is beginning to sign people up for the program and use the remaining funds from the previous fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.
The program is indirectly funded by the federal government, which could impact the amount of funds the agency has for its programs in the event of a long-lasting government shutdown.
Federal funds are dispersed to the Tennessee Housing Development Agency, which then disperses monies to agencies throughout the state.
Staff members are encouraging people to apply for any assistance they need, because there is money left over from the last fiscal year.
Last year, the Cleveland office helped 1,883 people receive home-energy assistance.
“We estimate that we will be able to serve at least 50 percent of our customers this year,” Westfield said.
She said it remains to be seen how LIHEAP and other programs will be impacted if the government shutdown lasts a long time and a new budget cannot be agreed upon and set into motion.
“We just don’t know,” Westfield said.
This year, applicants are asked to make appointments to apply for the program with the help of office staff. However, she said those who are not able to get appointments to sign up for the program right away should not worry, because the new schedule prevents funds from running out as quickly.
The change in how people have been asked to sign up for the program was originally made to prevent people from lining up outside the door to apply the way they did in previous years, she said.
If someone has a circumstance that could be called an emergency and meets certain requirements — like having a child under the age of 5 or being disabled — they could qualify to receive assistance ahead of schedule.
It normally takes 60 days before money is sent to the electric company to help with a person’s heating costs.
“We will try to make special accommodations for them,” Westfield said.
In addition to asking people to make appointments, there have been some changes in the information applicants are required to provide.
Applicants must now provide statements that represent the 12 past months of energy costs as opposed to just one statement showing one month’s costs.
“They’re wanting us to look at an average now,” Westfield said.
Those who have been employed are also required to show check stubs from the past eight months to prove their income eligibility. The program is for individuals who fall under federal poverty guidelines. A person living alone must make less than $17,235, and a family of four must be living with an income of no more than $35,325.
In addition, it is now required that the office has copies of the Social Security cards of everyone in a household above the age of 1.
Though she expected some people would have trouble getting copies of required documents, like the Social Security cards because some offices have been closed as part of the shutdown, she said the staff would try to help as many people as they could.
To apply for the home energy program, call the office and schedule an appointment.
For more information about it and other programs, call 423-479-4111.