Topeka It's been a mild cold-weather season so far, but state officials are expecting another busy year trying to help to low-income Kansans pay their heating bills.
"Certainly, there are increases in the price of natural gas, so it's likely we are going to see increases in rates as a result of that," said Dennis Priest, an administrator with the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. "If we get into a cold spell, it just magnifies that issue further."
Priest helps oversee the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, sometimes called LIHEAP. The federally funded program has provided about $12.8 million to Kansas, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius recently announced.
"As the weather continues to grow colder, home energy costs for many low-income families, disabled individuals and seniors living on fixed incomes will increase above what are already unaffordable levels," Sebelius said. "These funds provide Kansans with much-needed aid and help Kansas meet its obligations to families."
Last year, 44,000 people applied for assistance in Kansas, and about 38,000 received help, the highest number in recent years.
Assistance is available to households that earn up to 30 percent more than the federal poverty rate. For a family of four, the most they could earn to receive program funds is $23,920 per year.
The average benefit last year was about $360 per household and most of the benefits were used to pay heating bills, Priest said, though the funds can be used for other energy-related expenses, such as weatherizing a house.
Priest said the agency already had received numerous telephone calls requesting aid, but the application period doesn't start until Jan. 20.
Shortly before Jan. 20, Priest said SRS would send applications for program funds to past recipients and to people who receive cash assistance and food stamps.
Applications also will be available Jan. 20 on the agency's Web site at www.srskansas.org.
In addition, the state's cold weather rule is in effect from Nov. 1 to March 31. During the period, utility companies are limited on when they can disconnect customers who are behind on their bills. Customers can avoid disconnection by contacting their utility and arranging a payment plan. The rule applies to state-regulated utilities, and not electric cooperatives or municipally owned power companies.