Warm Winter Leads to Fewer Low-Income Applicants for Heat

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COLUMBIA - About 2,500 fewer households have applied for heating assistance this winter compared to last year, a statistic an official at Central Missouri Community Action attributed Monday to the warmer temperatures.

With a relative lack of bitter cold and major snowstorms, community services director Angela Hirsch said her office has received only 5,200 applicants for one phase of the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Through January 2011, about 7,700 households had applied for financial help with heating costs, marking a drop of more than 32 percent this year.

"I think that the weather has a lot to do with it," Hirsch said. "It's been unseasonably warm this winter and we haven't had the snow and the ice that we usually have this time of year... knock on wood."

Hirsch said CMCA anticipated some funding problems earlier in the fall with LIHEAP, but the state then released the final 50 percent of available money for the program. Without those funds, Hirsch said the energy assistance phase of the program would have gone broke by Christmas.

The "crisis" section of the program, which provides immediate assistance to people who lose their energy service in the winter, likely has enough money to last through the end of March, Hirsch said. However, Hirsch said that all depends on how many more households apply for the program through the rest of the winter. 

Thomas Jones, who moved into his home on McBaine Avenue in 2003, still enrolled in the program this year. He said he has used less heat, though, paying $50 to $60 per month. On Monday, he turned his thermostat off entirely and headed outside to tend to his garden. 

"I've been kind of playing it by mother nature, you know. It's kind of hard they say about Missouri weather," Jones said. "[The warmth] saves a lot on the bill, since I'm on a fixed income." 

To apply for LIHEAP, a household must fall below 135% of the federal poverty line. To participate in the program, applicants must fill out a form either in person or at this website.