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SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns who receive federal subsidies to help pay their heating bills during the winter months will be receiving less than they have in the past — but they expected much worse.
Word about drastic cuts to the HEAT program in Washington, D.C., came to the Utah State Energy Assistance and Lifeline managers last year. They warned everyone — all 50,000 households that received these funds — that they might lose half their funding.
"We were sweating bullets for a while, thinking that we were facing a 45 (percent) to 50 percent cut," said Sue Kolthoss, program manager for Home Energy Assistance Target (HEAT).
HEAT is Utah's version of a national program that gives winter utility payments to individuals and families who cannot pay their heating bills. It has been hit by federal cuts of 25 percent instead of 50 percent, as state managers feared. But will the cuts mean some Utahns could be without heat for several months?
"Last year, the average benefit was about $500; and this year it's only about $300," Kolthoss explained. "So we did get some criticism, but in the long run it's going to work out good for us because we'll be able to serve everybody."
"Everybody" means 50,000 Utah households.
The HEAT money goes directly into utility company accounts for low-income people who, for the most part, fall into three categories: the elderly, over age 60; people with disabilities; and families with children under age 6.
"(I) just couldn't find a job," said Victoria Tso Miera, a recipient of HEAT funds. "During those times I was actually using the HEAT program, because being a single mom with three kids, you do what you need to stay warm as well."
Tso Miera lost her job in 2009. She considers it ironic that part of her work hours were spent helping refugees fill out HEAT applications, and now she's using the program — all the while watching the thermostat in her home constantly.
"I'm keeping mine at 65, just because I need to stretch it," Tso Miera said. "I need to make it last as long as it can, because when you're not working and you have no income coming in, you have to turn the heat down."
Low-income clients receive help for the coldest months, starting in November. If you are interested, visit http://housing.utah.gov/seal/heat.html. The site includes the qualifications and information on the application process.