Jillian Dickman

With the December holidays over and February on the horizon, winter has Butler County firmly locked its icy-cold grip, forcing a large number of residents to seek assistance to pay for this year’s heating bills.

According to Kim Weigel, community relations coordinator for Supports to Encourage Low-income Families (SELF), an agency that distributes aid, Emergency Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) funds are being distributed to eligible families.

Weigel said approximately $900,300 from the Ohio Department of Development has been apportioned for this utility assistance program. SELF is slowly receiving more aid as time goes on, recently putting them just higher than the million-dollar mark.

The allocations will cover heating utility bills for one month, Weigel said.

“Heating bills are adding up more and more every year,” Weigel said. “Many families are needing help and it will depend on the weather for the duration of the rest of the year with just how much help they will need. Though the economy is slowly picking up, people just aren’t feeling it.”

There are a variety of income requirements that residents must meet to receive the aid.

“The Ohio Department of Development has increased the eligible income level for the program to cover the 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines which includes $44,100 for a family of four,” Weigel said.

Other options for area residents to receive aid are also available for those in need.

“We are currently working with the Salvation Army to help those who need assistance,” said Sally Thelen, communications manager at Duke Energy.

“There is a crushing need for assistance right now and Salvation Army is helping us out greatly,” Thelen said.

The amount of aid is allocated differently depending on the utility providers that customers use, Weigel said.

Customers of Duke Energy, Glenwood Energy and Dayton Power & Light (DP&L) may receive up to $175 from the program, Weigel said.

Purchasers of non-regulated utility providers including the city of Hamilton, Butler Rural and Oxford Natural Gas may receive up to $250, while bulk fuel customers may receive up to $600 for fuel oil, kerosene and propane and up to $300 for coal and wood, according to Weigel.

“We are serving a new demographic sense this year including doctors and lawyers who in the past did not need help,” Weigel said. “With the economy now, many have become recently unemployed.”

According to Weigel, HEAP runs Nov. 2, 2009 through March 31, and appointments to discuss options are available for assistance.

Some 2,240 Butler County Households have sought assistance so far, and Weigel hopes to help an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 more households in the approaching months.

Residents who are interested in seeking aid can call (888) 432-7022 to see if they are eligible.