For the second straight year, the Sampson County Department of Social Services has received a reallocation from the state that will allow it to further extend energy assistance funds to those who need it locally — this one nearly double last year’s amount — lifting the total funds to over $200,000 available to assist low-income households get through the cold winter months.
Erma Thornton, income maintenance administrator for Sampson County DSS, said the reallocation distributed to Sampson by the state helped boost the total LIEAP (Low Income Energy Assistance Program) funds by nearly $85,000 from the initial $124,400 allocation.
“We did receive an additional allocation of $84,529 and still have $22,402 of our original $124,402 allocation,” Thornton stated early Friday. “We have approved 464 households for a total of $102,000 and denied 70 households (since the application process began Dec. 1). We currently have $106,931 remaining in LIEAP funds.”
At the rate it has distributed funds, the county could fund approximately 1,000 households, which would be a huge increase over the nearly 600 households OK’d last year, when around $153,000 was given locally. The LIEAP application process changed drastically last year, and that new process has stayed intact for this year’s program.
Through the federally-funded LIEAP, eligible candidates receive a one-time cash payment to help pay utility costs, specifically heating bills. Counties are given an allocation each year and, like other counties, Sampson saw theirs dip dramatically last year, at which time new rules also did away with automatic pre-approval of eligible clients in favor of a modified program that is first-come, first served starting with the most vulnerable clients.
There is no automatic eligibility and all interested households must make an application, with priority given to households containing a disabled person (who receives Social Security Disability, Supplemental Security Income, VA Disability) that is also receiving services through the Division of Aging and Adult Services, or to a household in which a member is age 60 and older.
Only households in a “priority group” are potentially eligible for the first two months, through Jan. 31, 2013. If there is funding remaining as of Feb. 1, any household may apply until the funding is exhausted through March 31, 2013. Payments to the vendors are either $200, $300 or $400, based on the number of people in the applicant household and the household’s income.
Exhausted funding may be far less of an issue this year, with a whopping reallocation and a dwindling number of applications for energy assistance, DSS officials said.
“Applications have slowed down tremendously and it appears we will be able to serve many households effective February, that were not eligible in December and January because they were not in a ‘priority group,’” Thornton said.
Last year, the initial allocation from the state was just $108,286, an 85 percent drop from the $716,620 distributed for utilities assistance at the end of 2010. A reallocation of $45,000 brought the total county allocation to more than $153,000, helping to ultimately fund an approved 594 households last year.
That total reallocation is greater this year, and the total households assisted are projected to far surpass the number from last year. However, the figures still pale in comparison with the funding amount the county was dealing with just two years ago.
More than 3,400 households received LIEAP checks in Sampson in 2010-11, 2,950 of which were pre-approved Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) households who were automatically eligible. Without automatic eligibility and with new rules in place and a lowered allocation, the number of households funded dropped by 82 percent the next year, in line with the 85 percent drop in funding.
The county’s total allocation of $208,930 this year is a 36.3 percent increase over the $153,286 total allocation last year, but still a 71 percent drop from two years ago.
The Sampson County Department of Social Services will take applications from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Sampson County DSS building, located at 360 County Complex Road, Suite 100, in Clinton. At a minimum, applicants should have a form of identification and the name of the household’s heating vendor and the account number when applying.
Those with questions are asked to call Sampson County DSS, at 910-592-7131 ext. 3225.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.