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Since Dec. 1, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services' Low-Income Energy Assistance Program has been accepting priority applications for people aged 60 or older and disabled persons who receive services through its Aging and Adult Services division.

Priority applications end on Dec. 31, and all other eligible households can apply from Jan. 1 until March 31 or until the program's funds run out.

The LIEAP is a federally-funded program that helps households pay for their heating bills. The program provides a one-time payment to a vendor in order to warm their homes during the winter months.

“LIEAP helps ensure North Carolina’s older adults and people with disabilities who may be facing financial hardship have the funds to help stay warm throughout these colder months,” the NCDHHS said.

The email said that households that meet certain criteria may be eligible. The criteria include meeting an income test, having reserves at or below $2,250, or being responsible for heating costs. In order to apply, households might have to provide copies of bills, verification of citizenship or tax forms.

The NCDHHS said those with lower income and/or fixed income are often most impacted by energy costs. 

Lindsey Shewmaker, a human services manager for Orange County, said the program also helps offset other high energy costs families might be facing in the winter.

“If your family is on a fixed budget, you have food expenses, you may have health care costs, you may have childcare costs or you know, rent and car payments, everything that it requires to run a household,” she said.

Shewmaker supervises all of the public assistance in Orange County, including programs that help support the lower income community. She said the LIEAP payment amount is based on income and household size, with payments ranging from $300 to $500.

Shewmaker also said for families to qualify, they have a household income at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level, which would be about $2,500 a month for a family of three.

“Things have gotten more expensive,” she said. “This is a relatively expensive community to live in. And we want to make sure that people can live healthy lives and be able to support their families and meet their basic needs.”

Community members can apply online through ePASS or at a local social services department, Shewmaker said 

Orange County Board of County Commissioners member Sally Greene said the County’s role is to provide as much support as possible to that population and act as a social safety net for the county.

“Although Orange County is widely perceived as a wealthy county, the reality is that there is a great income divide in the county,” Greene said. 

In 2021, Orange County had the fifth-highest income inequality ratio in the state.

“We think of homelessness as somebody who can't afford a home, which is obviously true,” Greene said. “If somebody is in a home and they can't make it through the night because there's no heat or they're using space heaters when they shouldn't be and there's a risk of fire, that's definitely the same. That's almost as bad as staying homeless,” she said. 

Greene said heating is an invisible, fundamental need going into the winter that the County must support.

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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