As temperatures drop, a state program helps people in need pay the bills.
According to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, the Oklahoma Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program helped 77,816 households pay their winter electricity bills and another 68,498 pay their summer bills. DHS Communications Manager Casey White said the program is federally funded, and this year the department has $10 million for winter.
“We get a set amount of money and it goes out until it’s expended,” White said. “So there’s an ebb and flow.”
White said households that receive other forms of assistance are notified first and are pre-authorized to receive LIHEAP assistance when the program opens. For winter, notifications start to go out in November. DHS offices have sign-up kiosks for the program as well.
Grace Center Director Lesley Dvorak said her organization refers many people to the program every year. Assistance with utilities is one of the services offered at the center.
“When we have a client that comes in, we send them there first,” Dvorak said. “Usually they’ll have the funds to take care of the entire bill.”
Dvorak said if the client doesn’t qualify for one reason or another, there are other local programs that can help pay utility bills in part or in full. Dvorak said in her experience, the people she assists take advantage of LIHEAP in summer, rather than winter.
“This is normally when people have the highest electric bills that they’re going to have,” Dvorak said.
She thinks it may have to do with the number of people that still rely on gas heat, which means winter months don’t cause their bills to spike as much as summer. She said Catholic Charities and First Baptist Church in Ardmore both have programs that help people pay gas bills.
“We often coordinate on bills, especially those that are extraordinarily high,” Dvorak said.