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Heating assistance program has already seen high interest

A federal program, designed to help the homebound, elderly and disabled pay for their heating bills, has already attracted considerable interest in Decatur County.

Georgia’s regular Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) opened its “priority group” eligibility on Nov. 1, for homebound and elderly households (where all the adults are 65 or older) and households where all adults are disabled. Households with individuals who have life-threatening medical conditions and who are in danger of imminent cut-off of their heating source were also eligible to apply by phone.

Michelle Barwick, manager of the Decatur County Neighborhood Service Center (NSC), said she took 100 calls in just the first hour and 15 minutes on Nov. 1.

“We probably have somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 to 500 names on the list,” she said. “We have three workers who answer lines and they’ve been busy, especially on the first day.”

Barwick said all applicants are screened over the phone to determine if they meet age and income eligibility requirements.

The program will open to the general public on Dec. 1, if additional funds are available after all qualifying members of the “priority group” have been helped. In previous years, the general public was invited to line up at the center, but this year all interested parties must apply by phone.

The number at the NSC is (229) 246-3119.

“I think there are several reasons why it’s better to do it by phone this year,” Barwick said. “It keeps people from lining up in the cold, and it levels the playing field for those who don’t have transportation or have to work. It also is easier on the workers in the center when they only have to man the phones.”

Barwick said initial funding for the program could be exhausted by Dec. 1, but she still invited all eligible citizens to call and have their names placed on a waiting list.

“There’s always a possibility that we may receive additional funding, and if so, we’ll be working from the names on our list,” she said.

Barwick said interest so far has been “about the same” as last year, but projects that the general public applications will be higher.

“I know that last year it seemed like we had larger numbers than in 2009, and I’m sure we’ll see the same thing this year,” she said.

For more information on the program, visit acf.hhs.gov/programs/ocs/liheap.