Energy, mortgage and rent help eligibility starts Oct. 1

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Program funds offered through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and Community Services Block Grants for rent and mortgage assistance will now be awarded annually to coincide with the federal fiscal year.

Mid-East Community Action Agency, which administers the programs in Roane County, will award the funds based on a fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. Previously, the fiscal year began July 1. That means individuals who were served between July 1, 2010, and the end of June will have to wait until Oct. 1 to reapply.

Tonya Williams, program director for Mid-East, said moving the eligibility date is a major change for the agency, which traditionally sees a long line of customers in July seeking services.

“It is especially important that we get the word out about the new eligibility dates to the community, especially to our elderly and disabled customers that rely on us for energy assistance annually during the summer months,” she said.

The change is based on a new requirement handed down by the Tennessee Department of Human Services.

“We are aware of the hardships many citizens face during the summer months where there is an increase in utility costs,” said Tennessee Department of Human Services Assistant Commissioner Robert L. Matthews. “DHS is here to assist in any way possible.”

Mid-East will continue to serve customers who have not been assisted during the current program year through a three-month contract with DHS that began July 1.

Anyone who has not received assistance from the agency since July 1, 2010, is able to apply for help through Sept. 30.

“The three-month contract will give customers extra time to apply before the new funding year starts in October,” Williams said.

Heating and cooling assistance regulations establish 150 percent of the poverty level as the maximum income level allowed in determining eligibility.

Income levels, maintained in the Federal Register by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, are viewable at http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/11poverty.shtml. Currently, a Tennessee family of four with a household income no greater than $33,525 would meet eligibility requirements.

The program’s mission is to assist low-income households — particularly those who pay a high proportion of household income for home energy bills — in helping them meet their immediate home energy needs.

Individuals also are served on a priority point system specifically targeted toward households with members who are elderly, disabled and/or younger than the age of 6.

Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program payments are made directly to the customer’s utility company or energy supplier.

Interested applicants may call Mid-East Community Action Agency at 354-0450 or visit www.mecaa.net for details.