December 3, 2007

Heating Bills

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Having lived in Milwaukee for my entire life, there’s not much about this city that catches me off guard any more.  One thing, though, that never ceases to amaze me is the bitterness of the Wisconsin winters.  No matter how many of them I go through or how prepared I think I am, the wind and the cold continually exceed my expectations.  These days, my teeth chatter even as I make the brief walk to my car after work.

Thankfully, I have a warm home to return to, making the cold that much more bearable.  For many Milwaukee residents, though, our city’s cold winters present real problems that don’t go away so quickly.  In a lot of cases, these problems can be life-threatening if help isn’t readily available.

Fortunately, government assistance is available to help lower-income Milwaukeeans pay for their high home heating bills during the winter months.  Most residents are aware that programs exist to help less fortunate citizens cover high winter heating costs.  Frequently the funds become exhausted by season’s end, and yet many families remain in the dark about this help. Nevertheless, the county, state, and federal governments have all taken steps to ensure that the Wisconsin families stay warm this winter.

The most important source of heating bill support is a program known as LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program), a federal program which gives money directly to state organizations on the basis of a state’s relative cold-weather conditions and the number of households living in poverty.  The program is administered at the local level by community action programs and local agencies, which receive additional funds from state government and charitable groups, such as the Salvation Army.

In Milwaukee, most of LIHEAP funds are administered through the Social Development Commission (SDC).  Although the SDC won’t pay for a home’s entire heating bill, it will pay a considerable portion, depending on a family’s size and annual income.  For more information on the SDC’s energy assistance program, call 414-906-2800.

Households without heat, a disconnect notice, out of heating oil, or with a broken furnace and with no way to pay for heat are also covered by the program, specifically through its ‘crisis’ component, which provides immediate funding in the amount necessary to restore heat and provide for heating and electric assistance.  Beyond just getting families back on their feet, the program helps them by making improvements on their homes to make them more energy-efficient and lowering their heating costs.

Winter should be a time to celebrate the holidays with family, in the comfort of a warm home.  As a state, we must continue to take an active role to help our citizens cope with the cold.  As a neighbor, we must look out for one another during these difficult months.  If you or someone you know is having troubles with heating their home this winter, please contact the SDC.  It’s up to all of us to ensure that no one in our city spends this winter out in the cold.