More aid available for heating bills

ATLANTA --- With the economy worsening as the weather cools, low-income Georgians will likely face more competition for government help with winter heating bills, officials said.


Rising job losses and forecasts calling for a colder winter mean many will be scrambling to apply for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program when it opens to applications in the coming weeks, according to Gloria Lewis, the executive director of the Central Savannah River Area Economic Opportunity Authority, which administers the grant program in Richmond, Columbia, Burke and 10 other counties.

"We expect to be bombarded with people looking for help," she said.

About 5,500 people received help last year, and 200 more spilled over onto a waiting list.

But Ms. Lewis expects a much larger number will apply for the first-come-first-served grants this year. That's because energy costs are shooting up as the number of employed workers drops.

Metro Augusta has lost 1,500 jobs since September 2007. By the time winter weather hits, homes heated with natural gas, as a majority in the United States are, will be spending $155 more on average, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

"There are a lot of people who are hurting because the economy is in such a mess," Ms. Lewis said.

As some consolation, the authority has received about $4 million in funding -- twice as much as last year -- to award to low-income individuals and families needing assistance. The federal government supplies that money to states, which make it available to community agencies to disburse.

Grant amounts are also increasing, with one-time payments ranging between $310 and $350, versus the roughly $250 available last year. Funds are provided directly to whichever utility supplies the applicant's heating energy.

Ms. Lewis said her agency will be able to assist about 11,000 individuals and families this year.

Reach Jake Armstrong at (404) 589-8424 or


WHAT IS IT? Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program

WHO'S ELIGIBLE? Individuals or families with incomes at or below 150 percent of the poverty level -- $31,800 for a four-person household, for example

HOW DO I APPLY? Low-income seniors and homebound individuals can begin applying for assistance through the authority's neighborhood service centers Nov. 3. Others can apply starting Dec. 1.