A program that has helped low-income Oklahomans with their winter heating bills in the past won't help as many in need this winter.
According to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS), the federally funded Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) has greatly reduced the dollar amount available this winter. OKDHS officials say because of the lower amount provided in the federal budget, the number of Oklahomans who traditionally receive benefits will be drastically reduced.
"We want to stress that it's not us (OKDHS) who are cutting these funds," said Kathie Wright, OKDHS Programs Manager. "It's simply tied to the federal budget, which has yet to be approved."
The OKDHS-LIHEAP budget is roughly one-third what it was a year ago, with only $16 million appropriated to fund multiple programs, including winter heating, energy crisis assistance and summer cooling.
As a result of the limited funds, the OKDHS said it will not hold an open application period, which was originally scheduled for December 1. Instead Wright said the OKDHS will only offer assistance to pre-approved households or those who already receive benefits through other OKDHS programs and identified as most vulnerable.
"We were faced with some very tough decisions this year," Wright said. "We could keep the same dollar amount paid to households in past years, and help less people. Or, we could reduce the dollar amount to each household and try to help as many Oklahomans as possible. We opted for that decision."
Additionally, Wright says the amount provided to households who are pre-authorized will be less than previous years.
"This goes against the very core of our mission at OKDHS, which is to help Oklahomans in need. However, with limited funds from the federal government we can only do what we can with what we have," Wright said.
If Congress approves a budget and LIHEAP is funded at a higher rate than currently anticipated, OKDHS will consider accepting applications from other households at a later date in the winter of 2012.