Step Forward’s Winter Crisis Program will begin November 1, 2023, and will 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 their utility service.
“During the colder months, as temperatures drop, the inability to properly and safely heat your home can easily become a crisis situation," Paul Billups, Step Forward's Director of HEAP, said. "The Winter Crisis Program acts as a lifeline for Cuyahoga County residents who face disconnection or dwindling fuel supplies during the winter."
Last year the program distributed more than $620,000 in assistance funding during the winter season. This year, Step Forward expects a record number of applications requesting assistance.
"We have seen an increase already because the electric companies have increased their prices per consumer household," Billups explained. "We have seen clients we have never seen before. They have never known about our programs. They have never needed assistance. They were always able to maintain. But as the choices became harder for paying for regular household expenses and now keeping your utilities on, our program has come to their attention."
Recently, the Cleveland Housing Network reduced its staffing. In response, Step Forward is working to increase its staffing and adding an additional six people to its HEAP department. That could allow Step Forward's HEAP department to increase its workload by 10-15 percent. Billups is hopeful that it will help the agency to meet the high demand.
"The need here is so great, we have never been able to meet the need in Cuyahoga County, but as we increase our staffing, we’re hoping we can reach a greater population," he explained.
To apply for the program, clients must schedule an appointment by calling (216) 350-8008 or online at stepforward.itfrontdesk.com. Appointments are available Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. Walk-ins are not accepted.
"One of the things that we know is affected is that utilities cover so many areas. It affects the kids on their way to school. It affects them coming home trying to do homework. If you don’t have those utilities on, it affects so many areas of your life," Billups stressed.
Residents with scheduled appointments should submit their documentation at least three days in advance of their appointment to receive assistance at the time of appointment.
Documentation can be submitted to the Step Forward drop box at 2203 Superior Avenue, through the online scheduler linked above, emailed to Heapdocuments@stepforwardtoday.org, or submitted online at energyhelp.ohio.gov.
Clients need to bring copies of the following documents to their appointment:
· Copies of most recent energy bills; utility bills (gas and/or electric), regardless of account status
· A list of all household members and proof of income for the last 30 days or 12 months for each member
· Proof of U.S. citizenship or legal residency for all household members
· Proof of disability (if applicable)
· Birth Dates and Social Security Numbers for all household members
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% of the federal poverty guidelines to qualify for assistance. For a family of four, the annual income must be at or below $52,500.
"I thought that everyone knew about HEAP, but what we have found out over the last six months or so is that a lot of people don’t know our program exists. We have been ramping up our efforts to get the word out," Billups said. "We’re here if the assistance is needed! We can help you maintain your services. Don’t be afraid to ask. It’s not an entitlement program. We are here to maintain your household."
For more information about the features of the Winter Crisis Program and what is needed to apply, contact Step Forward at (216) 350-8008. To be connected to your local Energy Assistance provider visit www.energyhelp.ohio.gov or call (800) 282-0880.