Funding cut for energy assistance

Oct. 30, 2013 @ 11:08 AM

Federal funding for Caldwell County’s program that helps low-income individuals buy winter fuel has been cut by nearly half, from $563,795 to $285,297, the county’s the Department of Social Services Board was told Tuesday.

Last fiscal year, June 2012 to July 2013, the program was able to help 2,574 families with their heating expenses.

It’s possible the Low Income Energy Assistance Program could get more funding later, said Rhonda Howell, the program’s supervisor.

Howell said she did not know why funding was cut, but she speculated that it was part of larger cost-cutting efforts at the federal level.

Each applicant can qualify for up to $600 in assistance, which is distributed based on need and paid directly to the fuel vendor. The amount is determined by income, and can be used to purchase the household’s main energy source, whether it be kerosene, propane, natural gas, electricity or wood.

The board also heard an update from Will Wakefield, adult and family support program administrator, on NCFAST, the statewide computer program rolled out in January that is aimed at streamlining the administration of social services benefits. A backlog and numerous technical problems plagued it for most of the year after it started processing food stamp benefits.

Medicaid applications began processing through NCFAST on Oct. 1, Wakefield said. Applications for Work First Family Assistance, a program that provides employment assistance to families with children, are also being processed through NCFAST.

Wakefield said that sometime between January and March, DSS should have its largest programs in the NCFAST system, but that it will take about nine months beyond that to get the program functioning at an efficient level.