CHARLES TOWN — Heating assistance and other services for low-income families could be just among the programs hurt if partisan bickering in Washington for the second year in a row stymies the budget process.
“We don’t know how much funding we are going to receive as the federal budget hasn’t been agreed upon,” said Dan Hartwell, the program manager with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Bureau of Children and Families. “The president has one amount and Congress has another.”
The country faces what’s being called a fiscal cliff if a spending plan to take effect in January isn’t passed. It includes $7 trillion worth of tax increases and spending cuts over a decade. At issue are reductions in both defense and non-defense spending, the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, the end of a payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefit extensions as well reimbursement cuts to Medicare doctors.
During the winter of 2011-2012, 1,388 households in Jefferson County received assistance from the state Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
Residents who have received LIHEAP funds in the past likely received their paperwork last month, said Joyce Oates, an outreach representative at the Jefferson County Council on Aging. New applicants must apply with the Jefferson County Department of Health and Human Resources, she said.
Because of the inability by Congress to pass a budget, agencies will have a very small window of time to notify those needing assistance of the amount of help that will be available. Until then, no one knows for sure how much of a cut will be made to services. The amount listed on a proposed reduction is 8.2 percent.
“These cuts will go into effect early next year unless Congress passes a debt reduction bill this year,” Hartwell said.
Budget cuts in past years have meant the program was able to help only about a sixth of the families that qualified, according to federal data.
Meanwhile high oil prices are making assistance all the more important. Heating oil at Griffith Energy Services-Smith Oil Co. in Ranson is $3.78.9 on the first fillup with automatic service or cash on delivery at $389.9, with added tax on both. Roach Energy in Martinsburg is charging $3.96.9 a gallon.
Some households that use electric for heat may get a break this season from Potomac Edison.
A flier included in the electric bills from Potomac Edison offers discounts for low-income West Virginia customers. Currently Potomac Edison serves 26,000 customers in Jefferson County, according to spokesman Todd Meyers.
Only a portion of those customers qualify for a discount under the Special Reduced Residential Service Rate Program. The 20 percent utility discount program was established by state statute to assist certain eligible participants in receiving a reduced rate from the electric and or gas company.
In order to be eligible for this rate reduction, one must be a recipient of either SSI, WV WORKS or SNAP, the former food stamp program, and be 60 years of age or older.
A recipient also has to be enrolled in one of these programs during November, December, January and February. The electric or gas company is responsible for determining the eligibility for the reduced residential service rate.
For more information on the electric company discount, call 1-800-642-8589.
Additional assistance also may be possible through Community Ministries. Those interested in applying may call 304-725-3186.
The Salvation Army also provides emergency financial assistance including free food, clothing and shelter. Those in need of help may call 304-267-4612.