Every year, Great Lakes Community Action Partnership’s utility assistance programs help thousands of households in Wood, Sandusky, Ottawa and Seneca counties with the costs of heating their homes and making utility payments.
During the 2018-2019 winter season alone, GLCAP assisted 1,547 households through the Emergency Home Energy Assistance Program (EHEAP), which helps households with the cost of winter heating by providing a one-time utility payment directly to the energy supplier, or by paying for the cost of heating fuel.
What figures don’t show, however, are the personal stories involved in every client who needs help through EHEAP and other utility assistance programs.
For some clients, EHEAP can be a source of relief when they are faced with an unexpected hardship.
A job loss, divorce, accident or other circumstances can lead people to seek utility assistance. Setting up a payment plan can be a relief to a person who is already burdened with other expenses due to unfortunate circumstances.
“I had a client who was a single mom with several children,” intake worker Christina Keller said. “She was recently divorced and had just lost her job. We worked with her landlord and helped her set up PIPP. To see the weight lifted some was a great sight.”
Utility assistance programs like EHEAP and PIPP Plus are of great assistance to clients who are living on a fixed income, especially those who are elderly or disabled.
An elderly client came to GLCAP and said she had been talked into switching to an alternate electric supplier after leaving the Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) Plus program. The client thought she could manage her electric charges since she had a credit on her account. However, the variable rates of the supplier caused her to lose her credits and incur unaffordable charges. Basic Needs Specialist Joyce McCauley-Benner and intake worker Sonja Berrier helped the client return to PIPP Plus without penalty.
“The client was very hard of hearing, so it took me a minute to explain everything to her. When she finally understood, she burst into tears again. I must have looked upset, because she quickly explained these were happy tears of relief.”
“I walked her to the lobby she gave me the biggest hug her frail body could manage. She thinks I made her day but I know it was really she who made mine.”
Other resources besides EHEAP may be needed to help clients with utility needs.
While EHEAP funds are vital in helping residents with utility costs during the winter months, the program can work in conjunction with other GLCAP departments to ensure that other home needs are met. During this past winter season, intake worker Dessa Sutherland worked with an elderly and disabled woman who had needed to replace a furnace and had been heating the home with an oven fueled by propane. As winter was coming to an end, the woman’s propane was running low and she was starting to get nervous.
EHEAP winter crisis funds can only be used for propane fuel if it is used as a main heating source (not for cooking). Knowing that the client had applied for other services through GLCAP, Dessa connected with GLCAP’s Housing and Energy department to provide an update.
“I checked with the Director of Housing and Energy to see where she was on the list to get the furnace replaced and discovered that she had only been approved for a roof through CHIP,” Dessa said. “Terry Jacobs [Housing and Energy director] called a meeting of HEAP, HWAP, and CHIP and authorized a new furnace to be installed as early as the following day.”
Front-line staff provide support for people who are going through difficult times.
Facing the prospect of losing heat in the middle of winter is difficult, and utility assistance staff frequently are in the role of being a source of strength and comfort for clients who are undergoing a stressful time. Intake worker Belinda Chavez said she can especially relate to clients who have lost a loved one. Belinda’s son, Andy Chavez, was a police officer who was killed during a bar shooting in Fremont in March 2014.
“I've had a few clients who I can get in touch with a little bit more than others because of their loss of a child, whether by sickness, drugs or killed by others or by their own hands,” she says. “By talking to them about my loss and them being able to talk to me about their loss helps them not only through EHEAP but as emotional guidance, strength, and a listening ear.”