When state programs are cut, officials usually point to fiscal woes. But the director of community services at Douglas County Senior Services is beginning to think that answer isn't good enough.
Sandy Strand, who works with local senior citizens, is especially concerned about cuts to the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, which is federally funded and administered through the state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.
Previously, people whose incomes were up to 150 percent of the poverty level qualified for assistance on heating and cooling utility bills. In November, the cutoff was changed to 110 percent of the poverty level, which means fewer people are eligible for aid.
TO QUALIFY for LIEAP this year, a single individual's three-month gross income must not exceed $1,820. In 1991, the limit for a single-person household was $2,355. A four-person household's three-month gross income this year must not exceed $3,685. The limit last year was $4,762.
At a recent meeting with local legislators, Strand suggested that assistance be based on people's adjusted income instead of their gross income.
Strand provided the legislative delegation with an example of how the reduction from 150 percent of poverty to 110 percent of poverty has affected local residents.
The monthly income of one of her clients, Strand said, is $709. With the new eligibility guidelines, the woman's income is about $100 too much to qualify her for LIEAP.
HOWEVER, Strand said the woman spends about $160 a month for health insurance premiums because she is not yet 65 years old, she doesn't qualify for Medicare and about $200 monthly on medication. That leaves her with about $350 to live on monthly.
"She would have been eligible at last year's level," Strand said in her office at DCSS, 745 Vt. "In fact, she got (assistance) last year."
Strand, who was asked by Sen. Wint Winter Jr., R-Lawrence, to put her proposal in writing, said the fact that the woman's monthly income is $907 doesn't do the woman much good because she doesn't see a large chunk of it.
Kathy Valentine, energy assistance administrator with SRS in Topeka, said the cuts were a result of dwindling financial resources.
In the early days of LIEAP, which started in the fall of 1980, Kansas received $18.2 million from the federal government. This year, the Uncle Sam will provide about $9.4 million in energy assistance.
THE STATE also receives money allocated by the Legislature and raised from oil overcharge funds, "but that money is drying up," Valentine said.
The average assistance last year for winter heating costs was $217 per household and $122 in the summer, Valentine said.
People requesting assistance from LIEAP apply for heating and cooling assistance at the same time. Applications will be accepted through March 31.
Previously, people applied for winter and summer assistance separately. Valentine said the new process saves the program money and is easier for the applicants because they only have to apply once.
Through the middle of this month, Valentine said LIEAP has received 24 percent fewer applications than the same time last year. She said the state cannot further reduce income guidelines because of federal regulations.
VALENTINE said households with two or more incomes seem to be the most affected by the changes.
"We're finding that households with two incomes are the ones that are being disqualified," she said. "Our goal was to protect the people with the least ability to pay large utility bills."