Program helps low-income families keep homes heated

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Home Energy Relief Opportunity, or HERO, program and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, LIHEAP, are doing what they can to keep homes heated during the south’s cooler months.

Both programs are sponsored by Birmingham’s Community Action Association of Alabama and provide families and individuals with heat assistance according to income.

“LIHEAP is offered throughout the state in conjunction with Alagasco,” Association communications director Nikki Tucker said, “and it helps all Alagasco customers.”

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As opposed to the HERO program, which only helps applicants until March, LIHEAP uses financial funding from the federal government to help applicants twice a year.

To qualify for LIHEAP and HERO, applicants need to make no more than $996 in a one person home, $1,336 for two people, $1,676 for three people and $2,015 before taxes for four people. If there are more than four people in the home, applicants need to add $340 per person to calculate the average income.

“With HERO, applicants need to be Alagasco customers, have a notice of disconnection and fit the low-income requirements. If the funds are available, it will help pay the applicant’s bill and help the client make organized payments. HERO keeps clients from being disconnected,” Tucker said. “With LIHEAP you have to be financially eligible and you can only get helped twice a year.”

“The applicants will still be responsible for their bills,” Association executive director Lukata Mjumbe said. “The program will only help them up until March.”

LIHEAP provides funding according to poverty levels and the number of cold days in the state and since Alabama is considered a “warmer” southern state, LIHEAP funds are limited.

“We are encouraged because we have secured some additional relief for some of our communities through this new partnership,” Mjumbe said. “We’ve made a big step in the right direction.”

Mjumbe said the next important step is to make sure Alagasco follows through with its commitment to provide funding and resources.

“We are expecting our application rates to increase drastically,” Mjumbe said. “So we are going to need more staff to cater to the demand and we are going to have to pay them for their work.”

Last year energy assistance programs provided by the Community Action Association of Alabama helped approximately 91,000 families in the hot and cold season, but Tucker said the amount of financial help depends on the family income and the agency.

“There’s always been a need to have a program like this. There are too many people that have to live with the cold on the inside of their homes,” Mjumbe said,

“and that can have some very negative impacts with people’s health, as well as their quality of life.”

Residents of Hale, Greene, Marengo and Perry counties should contact the Dallas-Selma Community Action and Community Development Corporation at (334) 875-2450 or write to 713 Jeff Davis Avenue, P.O. Box 980 Selma, AL 36701.

Sumter County residents should contact the Community Service Program of West Alabama in Tuscaloosa at (205) 758-4756 or write to 601 17th Street, Tuscaloosa, AL 35401.