Senator Paul V. Jabour, (D-Dist. 5) on Friday asked the Rhode Island Department of Human Services (DHS) to immediately release the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding to the state’s Community Action Programs for distribution.
“People are cold now. Temperatures are expected to drop below freezing tonight. Next week is expected to be even colder than this week. People simply can’t wait three more weeks for heating assistance. They need it now,” said Senator Jabour in a release on Friday.
According to a statement from the Senator, funds will not be released by DHS until Thanksgiving. Jabour indicated that he had constituents that don’t have heating fuel now or adequate funds to purchase fuel.
“Funds are very rarely released this early in the year,” said Jeanne Gattegno, CEO of the West Bay Community Action Program in an interview earlier this week. “Funds are usually disbursed later in the winter months, towards January and February.”
The seven approved state CAP agencies are currently processing applications from applicants who were approved last year, entering returned applications into the system, scheduling appointments for new customers and preparing for an increase in requests for assistance.
Our program started off on a much better footing than last year,” said Gattegno, referring to a glitch with the state’s IT program that delayed processing of LIHEAP assistance last year. “The system is in place. Our people are in place. We have reviewed and entered approximately 1,500 applications already from clients that were approved last year.”
According to Gattegno, the West Bay CAP processes about 100 requests for assistance every day.
“From our experience,” said Gattegno, “we have done a good job of servicing everyone who has applied. What happens is that sometime at the end of the season there is a deadline, a date set. If people have not applied yet, by then, they may not be eligible.”
Individual CAP agencies are setting the date for when new applications will be taken and scheduling eligibility appointments accordingly. Gattegno recommends that each individual be conscientious about having all of the information necessary at the screening appointment in order to avoid having to come back.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last week announced the release of $2.9 billion in heat assistance funding, $20.7 million slated for Rhode Island’s LIHEAP programs, to be distributed through the local administrative agencies. The result of a bi-partisan effort led by Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Susan Collins (R-ME), the initial release represents ninety percent of the the full year allocation under the FY 2014 Continuing Resolution.
“I hear that agencies are telling applicants to buy 50 or 75 gallons of oil to get them by, and wait for reimbursement,” Senator Jabour said. “With prices well above $3 a gallon, many residents don’t have the $200 or more that would be needed to take this step. I urge the Department to release the funds now to local partners in the community, so that they can disburse these funds to the residents who need them.”
Those seeking heating aid assistance should contact their local CAP agency for more information.
“It is really important for those people who think that they want to apply or need to apply, that they do,” said Gattegno. “That they don’t wait.”
A list of state-approved CAP agencies can be found here.