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Funds Still Available to Help Low-Income Oregonians with Power Bills

No matter what type of home heat source, assistance is available for low-income Oregonians who can't afford their utility bills. (C. Thomas)
No matter what type of home heat source, assistance is available for low-income Oregonians who can't afford their utility bills. (C. Thomas)
February 2, 2016

REDMOND, Ore. - Oregonians at risk of falling behind on their home-heating bills this winter have some options. Funds are still available for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which isn't always the case this far into the season.

To get help, households have to apply and show proof of income. Every county has an organization that administers energy-assistance funds. In Jackson County, it's ACCESS, where Vicki D'Alessandro, customer service coordinator, says they've already served 500 more households this winter than last.

"A lot of individuals, not just seniors but people that live on fixed incomes, are a large population that we serve," says D'Alessandro. "And the majority of our clients work, they receive income, and they meet the criteria to receive assistance."

Statewide, about 20 percent of people who receive heating assistance are age 60 or older. It's estimated that 450,000 Oregonians are eligible for assistance with paying their power bills, but federal LIHEAP funding covers only about one in five.

The numbers of households receiving LIHEAP assistance are also up in Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties. Steve Murray, deputy director for community services at Neighbor Impact, says families facing a power shutoff are given priority, but it shouldn't have to come to that.

"We encourage people to contact us ahead of time and also work with your utilities," says Murray. "If you're not going to be able to make your full payment but you can make partial payment, work with your utility. Contact them. Don't wait until you're in way, way over your head."

He says Neighbor Impact and other groups also work closely with the utility companies to find ways to keep people's lights and heat on. LIHEAP funding is released in October every year, and has to last not only through the winter, but into the summer months.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR