With thousands of Spokane County families needing help with their heating bills this winter, federal assistance is expected, but it’s up to the new Congress to decide how much.
“We know there will be more money, we just don’t know how much more,” said Ron Hardin, spokesman for SNAP.
Beginning Friday, the Spokane-based social services organization will begin scheduling 4,000 more appointments with families seeking energy assistance grants.
So far this winter, SNAP has allocated more than $2.1 million in energy assistance grants to more than 4,600 households. Counselors continue to meet with low-income Spokane County residents who made appointments in the fall.
On Wednesday, Angelina Savage kept her appointment at SNAP offices in the East Central Community Center, 500 S. Stone St.
Savage’s family of three learned in the fall that their monthly “comfort level” Avista bill, which is averaged and dispersed throughout the year, would increase from $125 to $350.
Though she has a job, her husband cannot find work, and they haven’t been able to pay the full amount. Now they have received a shut-off notice from the utility. Savage is hoping her family is eligible for an energy grant of up to $1,000.
SNAP has been allocating the Low Income Home Energy Assistance grants based on continuing resolutions in Congress, which has yet to pass a fiscal 2011 budget.
SNAP energy program director Margaret Belote reminds those seeking help to continue communicating with their utility provider.
“Heating assistance is not designed to pay a household’s entire energy bill,” Belote said, “but rather to help struggling families get through the winter season.”
Hardin said SNAP gets as many as 50 phone calls a day from people needing help, but the agency has to be careful about how many appointments it schedules until it knows just how much aid will be available.
Last year, the program allocated $7.5 million in energy assistance to more than 14,000 Spokane County households.
“The need is certainly as much if not more than last year, and last year was a record,” Hardin said.
In addition to the federal energy assistance grants, SNAP has allocated more than $475,000 in other public and private funds to help about 2,000 people with emergency heating assistance this season.