Heat Assistance Money Won't Go As Far This Year

Heat Assistance Money Won't Go As Far This Year

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Tonya Papanikolas Reporting Last year around 35-thousand Utahns received federal assistance with their gas and electric bills. Those who qualify receive an average of $300 to help offset costs. But this year more people than ever may need that assistance.

Jean Magann is getting used to being bundled up with a hat and coat; her furnace recently broke and she doesn't have the cash to fix it.

Jean Magann, Has No Heat at Home: "The way we get the house heated up is let the sunlight in and it warms it up a little bit, and we use the oven, which they tell you you're not supposed to do."

Heat assistance advocates worry about people using unsafe methods to heat their homes when bills get too high. Just this morning a homeowner whose natural gas was shut off accidentally started a fire using portable kerosene heaters.

Betsy Wolf, Salt Lake Community Action Program: "We would hope that we could find ways to assist people so they don't hurt themselves or their homes."

The Salt Lake Community Action Program helps people receive federal assistance with energy bills. This year the spike in energy prices is creating extra problems.

Betsy Wolf: "Our concern is that while people, those who apply, will get assistance, they'll get the same amount as last year, which will not go as far."

For those who do qualify for federal assistance, Utah also has a helpful moratorium.

Gordon Walker, Director, Division of Housing & Community Development: "If they can't pay their bill, their gas or their electricity will not be shut off."

The moratorium only applies from November to March, so come spring the large bill is still due. But at least customers will stay warm in the coldest months. In the last month and a half, Utahns have filed 17 moratoriums, a large increase from last year.

Gordon Walker: "We want to make sure that everybody has warmth in the winter time."

Jean Magann: "Had to wear like five layers of clothing, and four or five blankets."

Jean Magann is applying for federal assistance today, hoping she can warm up very soon.

To qualify for federal assistance, applicants must have an income up to 25-percent above the poverty level. For a family of four, that would be a little under 23-thousand dollars a year.

To find out where to apply for heat assistance in Utah, call 1-866-205-4357.

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