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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Virginians Can Apply for State Fuel Assistance to Help with Heat Costs Through Monday

(Christopher Six/WYDaily)

RICHMOND — Following the extreme cold temperatures Virginia experienced last year during Winter Storm Elliott, residents concerned about paying heating bills this year can apply for state help.

The deadline for residents to apply for fuel assistance is 6 p.m. Monday. The application window typically opens the second Tuesday in October and runs through the second Friday in November, or the next business day when the deadline falls on a holiday. Friday is Veterans Day.

“Keeping warm during the winter months should not be a struggle Virginia families have to face,” said Danny Avula, the commissioner of Virginia’s Department of Social Services, which oversees the assistance, in a statement. “With this assistance, households will be able to dedicate their resources towards other expenses they might have while staying comfortable in their homes.”

Virginia’s fuel assistance program is part of the federally funded, state-administered Low-Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, and is intended to offset heating bill costs for qualified applicants who have a monthly income below a certain amount. Eligibility requirements outline those income limits, which range from $1,822 for a one-person household of one to $13,992 for a household of 20.

The funds can be used for electricity, natural and liquid propane gas, oil, kerosene, coal and wood, as well as delivery and installation charges and connection or reconnection fees.

The benefit ranges from a minimum of $397 to a maximum of $1,282 for each recipient, according to the federal Department of Health and Human Services, the agency that sends the program’s funds down to the states. In fiscal year 2023, Avula said 113,000 Virginia households received fuel assistance through the program.

This fiscal year, which starts on Oct. 1, Virginia received $93 million for its LIHEAP services. The state assigns 45% of its LIHEAP funds to fuel assistance, meaning about $45 million is available this year.

In fiscal years 2022 and 2021, peak years for COVID relief funding, the state received about $200 million for LIHEAP. In 2020, Virginia received $127 million.

Dana Wiggins, director of consumer advocacy at the Virginia Poverty Law Center, said the state’s fuel assistance program only helps about 30% of the income-eligible population.

Virginia could improve enrollment by having a year-round application time period and making people who receive other forms of state assistance automatically eligible for the benefit, as some other states do, said Wiggins.

The fall enrollment period “really only gives people a very short window of time to sign up for a really critical benefit, particularly as utility costs on electric and heating costs have gone up for many families over the last several years,” Wiggins said.

This past session, budget proposals from both the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate initially included language that would’ve made the application period year-round, Wiggins said. However, the language didn’t make it into the final spending plan.

Nevertheless, the one-month period is “just a guideline,” Wiggins added. “There didn’t have to be legislation in order for that to happen. It’s just there as a way for it to actually happen a little bit faster by mandating it to happen.”

People interested in fuel assistance can check their eligibility and/or apply for the benefit by going to CommonHelp.virginia.gov, calling the Enterprise Customer Service Center at 855-635-4370, or submitting an application at a local department of social services.  Notification of eligibility to receive the benefit is sent in December.

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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