Heating assistance program facing delays due to government shutdown

By Hillary Thornton | 

PAINTSVILLE, Ky. (WYMT) - The government shutdown is having a direct impact on a program that helps thousands in Eastern Kentucky stay warm during the winter. The shutdown is bringing some changes to the low income heating energy assistance program, known as LIHEAP.

Community Action officials throughout the state are dealing with issues resulting from the budget dispute in Washington.

Big Sandy Area Director Mike Howell says, "It is going to affect the release of funds for the LIHEAP program so the money is not going to be available when it was originally scheduled to."

Which is causing officials to delay the start of the heating assistance program from November 4th to November 12th.

"Normally runs 6 weeks, scheduled through December 13th. Now, with the delay I'm going to cross my fingers and assume it will extend a week," says Howell.

Big Sandy Area officials say they began receiving daily phone calls about the program in August, and now are having to tell those in need they will have to wait even longer.

Community Resource Representative Jennifer VanHoose says, "They are very disappointed because they anticipate the start date and they actually plan the paying of their bills, whether it is a utility bill or if they are waiting to receive kerosene."

LIHEAP helped more than 15,000 households in the Big Sandy last year, through the six-week subsidy program and the crisis portion that begins in January....which officials say could also be impacted.

"We've just got our fingers crossed. We are looking at measures...you know if this continues for several weeks we are looking at measures to scale back operations and hopefully it won't come to that," says Howell.

As they wait and see what the Federal Government decides.

Officials say if an agreement is not reached in the next few days more delays are possible. They also worry that if the shutdown continues other programs such as the weatherization program and head start will also be affected.

Officials say it all depends when an agreement is reached and how much money is made available.

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