Compared to income, consumer spending on energy is disproportionate. The smaller the income, the larger part of each dollar goes toward keeping a family warm in winter. For those on the edge of poverty, where every dollar is stretched thin, unforeseen medical bills, unexpected car breakdowns, or any disaster will push a household behind on its bills, including the utility bill.
“The utility meets with local community services every year to get ready for the winter influx of people needing help,” said Gretchen Alexander, community care manager for Clark Public Utilities. This helps services, like the Salvation Army, guide families facing service disconnections to the utility.
“We also have interpreters available for several languages, including Russian and Spanish,” said Alexander. “And we can connect customers to the county weatherization program for lower-income households and help with referrals to the city for vouchers to help pay water bills.”
For residents of Clark County, Clark Public Utilities offers four energy assistance programs that low-income residents can tap into.
For most, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program is the entry point. A federal program funded by the Department of Health and Human Services, it aids needy families using any type of heating fuel — gas, electric, oil, wood or propane — obtain a grant toward their fuel cost. To qualify, a household’s income must be at 125 percent of the federal poverty level or less. If eligible, the grant goes to the fuel vendor, and the family must manage how they want to use their fuel grant.
“Anyone applying for LIHEAP is also assessed for our other programs,” said Alexander. “Usually families coming to us with a late utility bill have other issues, related to food, housing or health, and we help them connect with other community services to address those concerns also.”
Families applying for LIHEAP may also qualify for other utility programs. For low-income families using only electricity, a Guarantee of Service Program can reduce the electric bill to a percentage of their monthly household income. Household income must be 150 percent or less of the federal poverty level to qualify. So, more Clark County residents may qualify for this service than for LIHEAP. At the end of 12 months on the program, the utility also forgives any account balance carried from the start of the program, so the customer has a clean slate.
At age 62, utility customers who have lived in the county for a year may qualify for a 50 percent discount for the winter heating months, based on their January through April billings of the previous year. To participate in the Senior Credit Rate program, the annual household income must not exceed $24,000. The service limits the amount applied toward electric bills to $500.
Utility customers who don’t qualify for other utility or government programs, may qualify for a grant of up to $300 through Operation Warm Heart. Clark Public Utilities customers and employees contribute to this donation-funded program that helps families in financial crisis pay heating bills. “After food and shelter, water and heat are vital for survival,” said Alexander. “This can make colder weather stressful if money is tight, and Operation Warm Heart can help.”
For the first time, locals can “Race for Warmth” in a 5K/10K run and a 5K walk supporting Operation Warm Heart on Feb. 8. Online registration is underway and the $30 race fee includes an event t-shirt and goodie bag for each pre-registered participant. The event will include a free kids fun run and will take place in the parking lot at the utility’s downtown office. All net proceeds will go to Operation Warm Heart.
More information is available at www.clarkpublicutilities.com; search on “energy assistance programs” in the upper right-hand corner of the page.
Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to email@example.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.