ESCANABA - Temperatures have fallen and winter is just around the corner - a scary prospect for those who struggle to heat their homes. Before apprehension settles in, local agencies are reminding residents assistance is available for those who qualify.
Heat assistance programs are currently offered by the Community Action Agency (CAA), Department of Human Services (DHS), the St. Vincent de Paul Service Center, and the Salvation Army of Delta County.
According to Sue Busbani, of CAA, programs to assist with shut-off notices and very low or empty fuel supplies are now available.
"Right now we have Walk for Warmth funds available for the people who have a shut-off status with their natural gas or electric heat service provider, like DTE," she said. "There is also assistance for those with deliverable fuel."
For those using deliverable fuel to heat their homes, Busbani said there must be an immediate need for fuel in order to obtain assistance - meaning the tank is nearly or completely empty.
"I cannot stress enough that people call as soon as they realize that they are running out of fuel," she said. "The companies don't make special trips anymore, except for a $250 fee that we don't cover, and it can sometimes take up to a week for a delivery."
The CAA also offers the assistance from The Heat and Warmth Fund (THAW) program, which offers additional help for those who don't meet the eligibility requirements of other heat assistance programs.
"We do operate the THAW program, but that doesn't start up until January," explained Busbani. "This is for people who have either been shut-off or have a shut-off notice or arrearages."
Local DTE customers can gain access to the THAW funds in December, but only if their heat has been shut off, adds Busbani.
"I encourage people to call right away. Everything is done by appointment only, due to the eligibility requirements which involve bringing in documentation," said Busbani. "The sooner a person calls, the more time we have to get them in here and to work with a fuel company."
Under its Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), DHS provides assistance like the Home Heating Credit and State Emergency Relief (SER) program. Program participants are subject to eligibility requirements.
While the Salvation Army of Delta County offers assistance for those with emergency heat needs, the office noted it currently does not have funds available to provide this help.
Mary Martin, of the St. Vincent de Paul Service Center, said they are once again offering emergency assistance to those in need.
"After residents go to the other agencies, like the DHS and CAA, they can come here," she said. "St. Vincent acts as an emergency resource, and we do help."
According to Martin, residents should not wait too long to seek help with their heat bill. Locally, heat provider billing cycles usually allow enough time for a resident to get assistance for any bill they cannot handle financially, adds Martin.
"We never turn away people who need help - it is all based on individual circumstances, but we never tell them we won't help," said Martin. "We even provide services like money management counseling, to help people understand how their financial troubles can be managed."