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Cold Cash Heat help for low-income takes a dip

By SUE RYAN

News staff writer

January 3, 2007

Fewer dollars will be available this winter for low-income energy assistance as federal settlement funds came to an end last year.

The change drops the total amount for heating assistance funds from all sources from $153,000 last year to $120,000 this year.

Community Action Program Director Jim Slusher, who oversees programs in Wasco and Hood River County, said the $1 million awarded three years ago ran out last year.

“They were known as Duke El Paso funds because that was one of the companies involved in price gouging (Oregon) a few years back,” Slusher said.

The state sued the power company and received a $15.5 million settlement. Approximately one-third or $5.5 million went to the state’s Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP). Of that amount, the state put $4.5 million toward weatherization and $1 million in the fund for energy assistance.

This program helps low-income, elderly, and disabled with their heating bills in the winter months. Community Action Program or CAP sends applications out first to disabled and elderly residents. Then the program opens to the general public on Dec. 1.

“We have several hundred people the first day call in and come in for appointments,” Slusher said.

Hood River County’s CAP office scheduled 220 appointments on Dec. 1. Slusher said they receive enough money to help approximately 1,600 households. The program already has a waiting list of 25 for Hood River County. Slusher said if someone contacted them now, they probably wouldn’t get an intake appointment before February.

He said finishing the pot of settlement money does impact CAP’s ability to help with energy assistance but that funds have been on a general downward trend for several years. Slusher said during his 30 years of working with the program, he has seen funds drop from the legislature once deregulation was put into effect.

“We used to receive $27 to 28 million (from the state),” he said. “Now we get about $20 million overall.”

He said the effect is a huge waiting list for energy dollars. In some cases, CAP can still help people. There are several funds set up by individual utilities that individual customers can qualify for.

“What happens is we have a list, and if we are out of LIEAP then we go down that list to see what else there is whether it’s from PP & L or PGE or a different one,” he said.

After 13 years of administering its own in-house program, Slusher said Hood River Electric Co-operative will now have CAP administer its funds. He said part of the decision was made to take that bookkeeping workload off of the utility but also because CAP can assess the household for other needs.

“We are in the social service business and because of that, we can make other connections for people such as referring them for job training or send them to see someone else for food stamps as part of the intake process,” Slusher said.

Eligible households for LIEAP include any whose income is at or below 60 percent of Oregon’s median income. For a family of three people, this would be $30,870 a year. Monies can be used for homes that use electricity, natural gas, oil, wood or pellets for heat.

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