Cold weather can add more stress to our lives, from keeping track of our coat to paying more for the heating bill.
Luckily, there are several local programs available to help pay for winter’s household heating costs, and each year an average of 12,000 households in Lane County receive this type of funding assistance.
Dahlia Garza is energy assistance program coordinator at the Campbell Community Center in Eugene. She says the program is open to anyone ages 60 and older, even if they aren’t regular visitors at Campbell.
“People do come up short in paying their bills every month,” Garza says. “And sometimes they’re on fixed incomes and they don’t see an increase in their pay but they have rising utility bills and they don’t know how they’re going to manage. This payment helps people make ends meet.”
The program that most people are familiar with is called LIHEAP, or Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
Mary Ellen Bennett administers the LIHEAP program for Lane County Human Services Division. LIHEAP is a federal program that opens Nov. 1 each year and applications are taken over the phone and online.
“It’s first-come, first-served,” Bennett says. “It doesn’t matter what the household’s energy type is. Most people have electric heat but some people have natural gas, a woodstove or propane or heating oil, and the LIHEAP payment can be applied to any of those heating types.”
Lane County now offers an online application on its energy page. “We’re super excited about this online application because calling in can be time-consuming and the online option should be a lot quicker and easier,” Bennett says.
Eligibility is based on the number of household members and the household’s gross monthly income before any deductions. For a single person, gross annual income must be below $23,095. For two people, it must be below $30,201.
The need for LIHEAP outpaces available funds. The amount of funding the program receives varies from year to year. The waiting list fills up quickly in November, but sometimes unexpected funds can appear late in the year.
Agencies will reopen their LIHEAP list a couple of times during the winter and even into the spring, Bennett says.
“So, if someone for whatever reason doesn’t get on a list in November they should call back the first working day of the month, each month, to see if the agency is reopening the list,” she says. “And keep trying. We encourage them to keep trying all the way into August.”
In the last two years LIHEAP received an unexpected federal funding allocation in August, after many people had given up. But, Bennett says, if you’re diligent there is funding.
Those who access the program through Campbell Center are also connected to other resources they may not have been aware of, such as food boxes. Garza says many seniors are reluctant to ask for help.
“Sometimes they will struggle to pay their bills rather than asking their family or community for help,” Garza says. “Some people would rather skip buying groceries than ask for help, so when they come in they get connected with other resources that they may not be plugged into.”
Local utilities have their own energy assistance programs. EWEB’s program, called EWEB Customer Care, opened Oct. 1. Applicants must be EWEB customers. Three agencies administer the ECC program and open their waiting list on the first working day of each month throughout the year.
For the ECC program, contact Catholic Community Services in Eugene and Springfield as well as the Campbell Center (for households with a senior member who is 60 or older). ECC funds provide a $200 payment applied to the heating costs.
Another program is called OLGA, or Oregon Low Income Gas Assistance. It’s available to low-income Northwest Natural Gas customers. Agencies who administer OLGA are Catholic Community Services in Eugene and Springfield, as well as Campbell Center, and Community Sharing in Cottage Grove.
The Oregon Energy Assistance Program (OEAP) is for customers of Pacific Power. Customers can call year-round to see if funding is available.
Emerald People’s Utility District offers a program called Helping Hands for its customers. Funds for this program are available starting in February and are first-come, first-served with no waiting lists. If you are approved, a one-time grant of up to $200 is credited to your electric bill.
“These programs are important because so many people in our community are struggling to cover all of their expenses,” Bennett says. “Losing your electrical service is very dangerous health-wise. It can put renters at risk for losing their housing. And losing your electric service for non-payment is a common precursor to homelessness. Programs like this exist as a way to keep people safe, healthy and comfortable in their homes. A warm home is one of our basic needs as humans.”
For more information
Apply online for the EWEB Customer Care Program (ECC), LIHEAP appointments and income guidelines: lanecounty.org/energyassistance.
If you are aged 60 or older, contact one of the following senior centers that administer LIHEAP programs:
Campbell Community Center in Eugene, 541-682-5354.
Willamalane Adult Activity Center in Springfield, 541-736-4406.
Creswell Senior Connections, 541-682-7810.
Florence Senior Connections, 541-902-9430, ext. 7835.
Oakridge Senior Connections, 541-782-4726.
Veneta Senior Connections, 541-935-2262.
Junction City Senior Connections, 541-998-8445
Households without a senior citizen and households with a disabled person can contact one of the following agencies:
Catholic Community Services in Eugene, 541-345-3642, and in Springfield, 541-747-8349.
Community Sharing in Cottage Grove, 541-942-6492.
Siuslaw Outreach Services in Florence, 541-997-2816.
St. Vincent de Paul in Oakridge, 541-782-3590.
The EWEB Customer Care Program (ECC):
Campbell Community Center in Eugene, Catholic Community Services in Eugene and Springfield.
The EPUD Helping Hands program starts in February: 541-746-1583.