WHEAP Program Sees Increase In Applications

Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program (WHEAP) as the state sees a 32 percent increase in the number of heat assistance applications in one year, but is not receiving any funding from the stimulus package.

[Image] WHEAP Program Sees Increase In Applications

Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program (WHEAP) as the state sees a 32 percent increase in the number of heat assistance applications in one year, but is not receiving any funding from the stimulus package.

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle created the Office of Recovery and Reinvestment, with Madison Gas and Electric CEO and President Gary J. Wolter as the office head. The Office of Recovery and Reinvestment is responsible for allocating the estimated $2.018 million dollars that Wisconsin is expecting to receive from The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The most recent draft includes funding to various entities such as education, housing, and transportation. There is no funding for energy assistance however.

As winter comes to a close, and We Energies begins to disconnect the power of individuals with delinquent and past due balances, hundreds of people can be seen standing outside the Social Development Commission to apply for energy assistance.

The current economic downturn seems to have had an effect on the number of applicants this year.

Over the past year, the number of crisis benefits paid out has risen 4.5 percent during Oct. 1, 2008 - Apr. 27, 2009, up from the same time period the year before. Including both crisis and regular energy assistance, there has been a 9.4 percent increase in applicants and a 23.8 percent increase in benefits paid out, both for crisis and regular energy assistance, according to SDC.

Although the energy assistance program is not receiving any stimulus money, weatherization is receiving some of the stimulus money.

The Program

WHEAP is a program that assists low income individuals pay their annual energy bills. Funding from the federal government is used to help applicants who fall within a certain income bracket according to household size.

The amount of money provided to help homes with their energy bills depends on the household income level as well as heating costs according to Pray.

Through WHEAP, SDC also offers crisis grants. These grants are provided to households whose power was disconnected or is in threat of being disconnected.

Wisconsin’s Home Energy Assistance Programs is offered through two different agencies, the Social Development Commission and Community Advocates. SDC handles the majority of the energy assistance applicants. WHEAP case workers handle appointments, all of the walk-ins, and do case management says Pray.

The Social Development Commission accepts a limited number of applications each day during the Energy Assistance Season that runs from October1-May 15 of each year.

Although the season spans over the course of seven months, case workers at the Social Development Commission see unusually high periods of traffic at certain times. During these times, hundreds of applicants stand outside SDC sites throughout Milwaukee County to receive energy assistance.

Tara Pray is the Energy Assistant Program Manager for SDC, and oversees the energy assistance program in Milwaukee County.

“During the peak times, which are before the We Energies moratorium begins November 15…,we are really, really busy up until when the moratorium kicks in.”

The moratorium, is the designated energy shut-off time.

Tara Pray, whose office in located at the SDC on Richards and Capitol, says that winters are steady, but they wish they were busier. Pray says that unfortunately a lot of clients wait until the last minute to apply for energy assistance and that is why they get the long lines outside the building.

At the Richard’s location, SDC case workers see about 160-180 people a day, which is normal for this part of the season. These people receive numbers in order to schedule an appointment that is based on a first come, first serve basis. There are morning number as well as evening numbers says Pray. She says that they try to hand out the numbers early, so that applicants will know whether or not they will be able to be seen that day.

Stimulus

Although there is no funding allocated for WHEAP, there is funding set aside for weatherization. Weatherization is a service where contractors come in and perform an energy audit. Based on the information relating to energy efficiency, clients may be eligible to receive services such as: insulation, sealing of leaks, heating systems updates and other energy efficient services.

A list of applicants who qualify for weatherization, are taken from those who apply for energy assistance. The two services often go hand in hand, as you must first apply for energy assistance in order to receive weatherization says Victor Montgomery.

Victor Montgomery, SDC’s Weatherization Program Manager says he does not know why there is not any funding from the stimulus money set aside for WHEAP. Montgomery says the stimulus money was produced to help and employ people and energy assistance is already helping people.

Victoria Smith is a second time energy assistance applicant, and says the stimulus money would be better used towards energy assistance, not just weatherization.

“I think it should go towards energy assistance…we need the heat. We don’t need windows, we need heat.”

According to Wisconsin’s Office of Recovery and Reinvestment, weatherization is expected to receive $ 141,502,133 in funding from the stimulus money, although it is not definite, as new drafts are created often.

Crisis

Angela Roberson stood outside of SDC’s Richards location in seek of crisis energy assistance for her grandmother. She says crisis is the worst situation you can get to.

“This is like my second time, says Roberson, the first time I came for myself, this time I’m coming for my grandmother.”

Whether or not crisis is the worst you can get, the number of energy assistance applications have increased says Pray, although SDC won’t receive the final numbers until the end of the season.

Options

Aside from energy assistance, SDC does offer other resources to aid the public in dealing with the rising costs of energy.

SDC offers counseling for conserving energy and also assists clients with energy budgets. SDC also works with the client as well as the We Energies in order to arrange pro-active co payment plans, before a client’s situation escalates to a need or crisis situation.

Pray says that SDC tries to equip clients with the tools they need to make some smarter decisions with the income they have.

“We have anybody who has a bill greater that $3,000 talk to a case manager and also do an educational workshop with us that focus on energy conservation in the home as well as budget counseling and basic financial literacy.” WHEAP also provide appointments for clients who work full time and also making special accommodations to home bound and handicapped individuals. Pray, says that SDC tries to provide proactive assistance, so that clients are better able to handle their annual bill.

The best time to apply for energy assistance, is between Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day, says Pray. During those times, she says you don’t have to stand in the long lines and you can usually get in and out within a half hour.

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