SALT LAKE CITY — The recent government shutdown froze federal funds meant to help low-income Utahns with heating cost. But Utah-based Questar Gas pledged to cover the costs for 45 days until money is released.
Since Friday, nearly 3,000 applications for assistance have been submitted. With the pledge from Questar, none of them will be left in the cold.
Spanish Fork resident Shelly Jameson knows first-hand what it's like to worry about utility costs.
"Finances were tight. My husband was in school and working full-time. We also had two children," she said.
Though her family no longer needs assistance, she's grateful the Heat Energy Assistance Target program was there at the time. HEAT is a federally funded program aimed at helping low-income residents pay their heating bills.
"It meant I put my utilities on my credit card, or they could help me and I could afford to live each month," Jameson said.
At the federal level, the Department of Health and Human Services regulates the money before it is released to the state. The government shutdown caused a ripple effect that delayed programs like this one.
"At this point playing catch up is an issue. We just want to make sure this program is back up and running as soon as possible," said Nic Dunn with the Utah Department of Workforce Services.
- Total household income is at or below 150% of the Federal Poverty Level.
- Household is responsible for paying home energy costs.
- Household contains at least one U.S. citizen or qualified non-citizen.
The department said families should receive their money by Wednesday. Questar Gas agreed to cover the heating costs of qualified Utah families until then.
"If someone has applied, they won't go cold in the winter season due to a lapse of federal funding," Dunn said.
With temperatures dropping, the numbers of applications is expected to jump dramatically. Last year, about 40,000 Utah households received aid through the HEAT program, totaling nearly $15 million. According to the Department of Workforce Services, this year is already on target to reach or exceed that number.
"This is a program a lot of Utahns have used in years past and will continue to do so," added Dunn.