Apr 052006
Authors: Sara Crocker

Colorado recently received nearly $12 million in additional federal funding to assist families who are struggling to pay their heating bills.

This has been a record year in heating assistance, with more than $65 million from federal, state and private donations, said Glenn Cooper, Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP) program director.

“Heating costs are way up and our case loads are way up,” he said.

Cooper estimates that 100,000 to 103,000 houses will receive assistance this year, the highest in LEAP history. They hope to increase everyone’s benefit by 30 to 35 percent. He also said they hope to increase the yearly assistance cap from $800 to $900.

Skip Arnold, executive director of Energy Outreach Colorado, a nonprofit group that helps raise money for energy assistance, said funding should increase to about $120 with an overall average benefit of about $500.

“This will be a tremendous help to LEAP,” Arnold said.

As of March 30, LEAP approved more than 97,000 applications and gave an average of about $425 to each household, according to its Web site. In Larimer County less than 5,000 people received assistance of around $376.

Peggy Koskie, manager of LEAP for Larimer County, said this money would provide extra help to get people get caught up on bills left over from the winter months.

“More is always better,” she said.

The deadline for seeking energy assistance is April 30.

Cooper said they hope to have the money distributed by the end of the month when they know exactly how many households will need assistance.

But energy assistance has had its ups and downs in years past, just like fuel costs. Arnold said that assistance funds can vary yearly based on political forces and he believes energy prices will continue to remain high in coming years.

Also, in the last few years, low income families and the elderly have had a harder time keeping up with their bills and are letting the excesses from their winter bills carry over into the spring and summer months, making it harder for them to get caught up before the next winter rolls around.

“Energy assistance really is a year-round problem,” Arnold said. “It’s like a glacier; there’s just not enough snow melting. There’s no way these families can catch up.”

To learn more about energy assistance, call 1-866-HEAT HELP (1-866-432-8435) or visit http://www.cdhs.state.co.us/oss/FAP/LEAP/default.html#litap.

Sara Crocker can be reached at regional@collegian.com

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