110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
In Volusia County extra funding will help needy pay utility bills
By Al Everson
posted Jan 31, 2009 - 9:24:19am
Maybe it is a sign of the times, as the federal government has given to Volusia County a significantly larger sum of cash to help needy households heat their homes in winter and cool them during the summer.
"We usually get about $500,000 [per year], but we got an additional $1.5 million. The new allocation totals about $2 million," said Community Assistance Director Ed Jasper, describing the county's share of funds under the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, referred to as LIHEAP, for short.
The massive boost in the LIHEAP grant was included in the continuing resolution approved by the previous Congress. A continuing resolution allows the federal government to continue operating and to spend money in the absence of an actual budget passed by the Congress and signed by the president. The LIHEAP is a program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Volusia County Council accepted the grant without opposition Dec. 4.
In keeping with the economic downturn, Jasper said he expects the extra dollars will be in demand. More people, he explained, are or will be eligible to receive the LIHEAP assistance in paying high electric bills. Progress Energy, with the consent of the Florida Public Service Commission, recently raised its monthly rates by 25 percent, and overnight temperatures fell below the freezing point during a couple of cold snaps.
"We are seeing more applications," said Jasper.
Not everyone who applies qualifies for the LIHEAP assistance. Jasper said his office uses income and personal-assets information to determine if the applicants may be aided.
If the applicant does qualify for the LIHEAP assistance, Jasper added, his staff will arrange to pay the utility bill.
"We do not give checks to individuals. We don't cut checks to individual households," he said.
Rather, the Community Assistance staff will send the payment to the power company. The LIHEAP payments are restricted during each fiscal year.
"They can come and get it once during the heating season and once during the cooling season," Jasper said. "They can get it three times a year, once [again] if they have a crisis or a disconnect."
Applicants come into any one of the county's four Community Assistance offices — DeLand, Orange City, Daytona Beach, or New Smyrna Beach — or they may apply at the county's libraries. Some of the requests come via private social-service organizations that refer their clients to the county agency.
"A lot of nonprofits don't have the resources," said Jasper. "Of course, the county does not have buckets of money, either."
People seeking LIHEAP aid may also apply on the county's Web site, www.volusia.org, and go to Community Assistance.
Jasper hopes the county will not run out of LIHEAP funds, as long as the need exists. That has happened before, as recently as last year.
"There were several weeks when we couldn't serve anybody," he said.
The need will probably grow as more people find themselves out of working or working fewer hours per week.
There is certainly a demand for help, according to Jasper, and the spike in requests for LIHEAP payments has created employment for a few people.
"We actually had to bring on three or four temporary staff just to handle the workload," said Jasper.
The LIHEAP is not to be confused with the county's own emergency-assistance program. That program is funded by county tax dollars, and it provides one payment per year to a qualifying low-income household for various unforeseen financial difficulties, including high utility bills, but also medical or dental expenses, prescription medications, or rent.
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