As the winter season descends upon Cuyahoga County, the issue of utility assistance becomes a pressing concern for residents.
In response to an increasing demand for energy assistance, CHN Housing Partners and Step Forward have partnered with the United Way of Greater Cleveland to better serve clients in need. The innovative approach, launched in November, promises to revolutionize the way utility assistance clients interact and receive support. The call center’s primary objective is to address client inquiries, offer aid in checking application statuses, determine eligibility for the program, answer questions, and facilitate access to the appointment scheduler. The strategic partnership aims to create a smoother and quicker process for individuals seeking energy assistance.
“We believe that this new call center will streamline the application process and ensure timely support,” Paul Billups, Step Forward's Director of HEAP, said. “The representatives at this call center are not only equipped to assist with utility aid but also to potentially provide information on a spectrum of resources, including food assistance, clothing support, and information about other programs in which individuals might qualify for. This will mean individuals in need could potentially access multiple forms of assistance in one phone call, making it a one-stop-destination for holistic help.”
The call center’s operating hours will be Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
On November 1, the day the call center launched, the United Way of Greater Cleveland confirmed its representatives answered more than 3,700 calls from people requesting energy assistance. Of these calls, about 70 percent were categorized as crisis calls, signifying the immediate need for help. On average, representatives were able to address calls within four minutes, underscoring their commitment to expediently assisting each caller.
“The primary objective of this partnership is to help Cuyahoga County residents get the help that they need,” Billups explained. “This will also alleviate the call volume for our HEAP representatives, allowing them to concentrate on efficiently processing assistance applications. The ultimate goal is to expedite much-needed aid to those requiring support during the challenging winter period.”
CHN Housing Partners and Step Forward emphasized the importance of data analysis to gauge the effectiveness and benefits of this collaboration. The initial statistics, though, indicate that the partnership could prove to be highly effective in streamlining the support process for utility assistance seekers in Cuyahoga County.
“In light of the economic climate and the continuous surge in utility prices, we’re witnessing an escalating need for utility assistance among individuals and families in Cuyahoga County,” Billups continued. "The strain on households due to these economic factors underscores the crucial necessity for accessible aid and support. It is imperative that we provide people with basic needs such as heating, water, and electricity. Our commitment is to bridge this gap.”
The Winter Crisis Program began November 1, 2023. The program will continue to accept applications through the end of March 2024.
The Winter Crisis Program helps eligible Cuyahoga County residents that are threatened with disconnection, have been disconnected, or have less than a 25 percent supply of bulk fuel in their tank to maintain utility service. Eligible households can receive up to $175 if they are a customer of a regulated utility or $750 if they are a customer of unregulated utilities such as electric cooperatives and municipal utilities. The assistance is applied to their utility bill.
Ohioans must have a gross income at or below 175-percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines to qualify for assistance. For a family of four, the annual income must be at or below $52,500.
HEAP continues to offer year-round assistance, too, such as the Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) and its Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP).
For more information about the Home Energy Assistance Program and what is needed to apply for any of the programs, individuals can call (216) 350-8008.