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The Daily Tar Heel

Orange County helps residents pay heating bills

Residents can apply through the Department of Social Services.

Orange County announced Monday that it would be accepting applications for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, which will help residents pay for heating costs.

The program provides a one-time cash deposit that is usually received in February of each year. The payment goes directly to the utility vendor and is credited to the resident’s bill.

Orange County Commissioner Mark Dorosin said the program is essential.

“It’s not a luxury, and if people are unable to provide that themselves, then I think it’s the responsibility of the government and the county to help them access those resources,” Dorosin said.

Commissioner Barry Jacobs said access to a warm home leads to better functionality.

“People function better if they’re able to function comfortably,” Jacobs said.

Eligibility and the amount of monetary assistance will be evaluated by a caseworker for each applicant, according to a press release. Eligibility is based on a number of factors, including income, family size and age. A family of four typically must make less than $31,000 and have less than $2,250 in household savings in order to be eligible.

Dorosin said it’s imperative Orange County remains aware of the need.

“Orange County is a very wealthy county, and we tend to forget that there are tremendous needs and substantial poverty amidst the wealth,” Dorosin said. “It’s critical that we address those needs.”

To apply for the program, residents must have verification of all income received during the previous month and a utility bill for the heating source.

Jacobs said families in need often have to make difficult choices and sacrifice some needs for others.

“A lot of times they’re elderly, or they’re a family that’s trying to make ends meet,” Jacobs said.

“It’s not that they don’t want to be warm, they just have to do things like pay the rent, buy food, buy fuel for their cars to get to work. So some things take priority over heat, and it’s a tough choice, especially on days like we’ve been having.”

Dorosin said he hopes the program will shed light on other issues faced by low-income residents.

“As folks participate in the program and engage with the county, we’ll be able to determine if there are other needs that they have and be able to coordinate other resources that might be able to provide assistance,” Dorosin said.

“It’s part of having a safety net for people who need a hand.”

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