COLUMBUS — The long, cold winter has been a drain on many household budgets in Ohio, so the state is extending the deadline for lower-income people to apply for heating assistance.
Nearly 134,000 customers have received $34 million in help with heating bills through Ohio’s Home Energy Assistance Winter Crisis Program. Because of the severity of the winter, the program has extended the deadline to apply to April 15. Typically, it’s March 31.
David Goodman, director of the Ohio Development Services Agency, told The Columbus Dispatch that the extension allows people who didn’t think they would need the help to apply for it.
Officials say they are seeing lots of people who had never before sought heating assistance. They say disconnects can usually be stopped by enrolling people in one or more energy-assistance programs.
Because of the cost of heat, Charlie Rehl, 68, of Grove City, a Columbus suburb, said he didn’t touch the thermostat all winter, opting for thermal underwear instead.
“I’ve really got to watch my money,” said Rehl, a military veteran and retiree going through a divorce. He said his first electricity bill in his new apartment bit deeply into his fixed income, causing him to seek help from the program.
The Winter Crisis Program offers a one-time payment of up to $175 for families at or below 175 percent of the poverty level. The Percentage of Income Payment Plan, which is available year-round, helps make payments affordable and includes opportunity for debt forgiveness.
Columbia Gas disconnect notices increased to 33,000 statewide from November through February — compared with about 32,000 last winter, company spokesman Steve Jablonski said.
The frigid weather, however, appears to have staved off the actual disconnects because shutoffs don’t take place when the forecast calls for temperatures of 20 or below, Jablonski said.
Actual terminations were short of 8,000, compared with nearly 13,000 during the same period last year, he said.