LUMBERTON — With sub-freezing temperatures entrenched in Robeson County, officials at the Department of Social Services officials are telling county residents who need help paying their energy bills that money is available to those who qualify.
“We’re urging everyone who thinks they are eligible for assistance to come in and apply,” Anthony Dial, a program administrator with DSS, said. “With the way the weather has been, we’re approving as many applications as we can.”
American Indians must apply to the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina to receive assistance, Dial said. Energy assistance and other social services programs for American Indians are administered through the tribe.
According to Dial, the county in the middle of last week still had $1,171,544 of its annual allotment from the federally funded Low Income Assistance Program to disburse. This year’s total allotment, which has been available to eligible residents since Dec. 2, was $1,310,844.
Dial said that if the money is not spent by March 31, it goes back to the federal government.
Last year the county’s allotment of funding for the energy program was just $638,868. The money helped 1,761 households with their energy bills.
Only a household where there is an elderly person age 60 and older, or a person receiving Disabled Aging Adult Services through DSS are eligible to receive energy assistance until Jan. 31, Dial said. Benefits range from a minimum of $200 to a maximum of $400.
From Feb. 1 until March 31, or until all funds have been distributed, “any households” with members of any age can apply to receive energy benefits through this program, Dial said. Applications for these households will be taken from Feb. 1 until March 31.
Dial said there are several criteria that households must meet in order to be eligible to receive energy assistance through the program. These include: having at least one U.S. citizen or non-citizen who meets the eligibility requirements; meeting an income test; having financial reserves at or below $2,000; being responsible for paying heating bills; having a valid Social Security number for each household member; having verifiable income, such as a bank account; and having a copy of a household heating bill.
Dial said that the money to assist paying the household energy bill is paid directly to the energy supplier and not to an individual household member.
Dial said that there are other funding sources that an individual or household may be eligible for in order to help pay heating bills. These include the Crisis Intervention Program and a grant from Duke Energy specifically designated to offset energy costs of eligible Duke Energy customers.
Eligibility requirements for crisis intervention funds and Duke funds are the same as those for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, according to Dial.
Dial said that the county has about $498,000 left in its annual allotment for the Crisis Intervention Program, which is available in cases of health and life-threatening cases. Only $1,400 is left from the Duke Energy grant.