Fewer will get federal help with heating bills

A decline in federal funding means hundreds of Mesa County individuals and families who received help paying their heating bills last winter could be left out in the cold this winter.

The federal government changed the income guidelines for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, requiring applicants to be at 150 percent of the federal poverty level rather than 185 percent, according to Karen Martsolf, spokeswoman for the Mesa County Department of Human Services.

Last year, a family of four that brought in about $3,400 a month or less in gross income was eligible for cash assistance to help pay their bills. The increase in eligibility requirements means a family of four must have a gross monthly income of about $2,800 or less in order to qualify for benefits, Martsolf said.

That change means roughly 800 Mesa County residents, most of whom are elderly or families with young children, who received benefits last year won’t be eligible for assistance this year, Martsolf said.

The county received 6,000 applications for assistance last year, a 30 percent increase since 2008.

“We are seeing a lot more families who are struggling to make ends meet,” she said.

In addition to the federal government cutting funding to the program, the state of Colorado no longer will mail applications to residents who participated in the program last year. In years past, residents who received benefits one year automatically received an application in the mail the next year.

To apply for heating-bill assistance, residents can pick up an application at the Department of Human Services at 510 29 1/2 Road. The application period runs through April 30.

For more information about LEAP benefits, call 211 from a land line or 970-244-8400 from a cellphone.


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