Significant changes are taking effect for the stateâ€™s Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP).
According to an announcement released by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, the N.C. Division of Social Services â€œhas evaluated and updated the application process and eligibility requirements for (the program) in accordance with changes mandated by the General Assembly.â€
Citizens planning on receiving assistance with their heating costs during the winter months should be aware of the following changes to the application process and the eligibility requirements for the LIEAP benefits:
In the past, applications were taken in November and payments were sent directly to program recipients in February. Households participating in the Food and Nutrition Services Program (formerly called Food Stamps) were automatically approved.
That is no longer the case.
Under the program changes, all households must meet income and resource eligibility requirements and must apply for LIEAP funds; there are no longer automatic approvals.
In addition, at the direction of the General Assembly, energy payments will now be made directly to the service provider, such as power, gas or oil companies during the month of the application.
Applications for persons 60 years old and above or disabled persons (receiving SSI, SSA or VA disability) who are receiving services through the Division of Aging and Adult Services (DAAS) will be taken from Dec. 1 through Jan. 31, or until funds are exhausted.
All members of the household must be 60 years of age or older, or at least one household member must be disabled and receiving services through the DAAS.
The release also states that should funds remain available after Jan. 31, any other eligible households may apply during February through the end of March.
Susan McCracken, director of the Lincoln County Department of Social Services, told the Times-News on Thursday that the â€œbig changesâ€ will likely result in â€œlots of upset people.â€
And she re-emphasized that no one will be automatically eligible or receive checks directly due to the updates.
She added that there was a lot more money for the program last year.
â€œFewer folks will receive any assistance this year,â€ she said.