Cuyahoga County, OH – It has been a successful Summer season so far for Step Forward’s Home Energy Assistance Program.
Throughout a portion of the year, Step Forward offers a Summer Cooling Program in which we provide individuals and families with their cooling bills. We also provide households with fans and/or air conditioners. This program is for low-income households, people 60-years of age and older and those who have a documented medical need.
Since January 1st, 2022, the HEAP office has approved 721 Summer Crisis applications totaling $321,765. The office has distributed 381 air conditioning units and 408 fans. Data shows a majority of those were provided throughout the month of August.
“That’s a lot,” Paul Billups, the Director of Step Forward’s Household Energy Assistance Program, said. “The number have gone up dramatically.”
Billups believes the demand has increase, in part, due to the hike in natural gas prices and the rise in inflation.
“The HEAP program numbers are usually consistent, especially around certain time frames of the year,” Billups admitted. “So to have an increase throughout the summer period? That was a little strange for us.”
Step Forward is now reminding Cuyahoga County residents that the Summer Cooling Program will come to an end on September 30th. Individuals and families have the next month to apply for an air conditioning unit and/or fan. After that, the agency’s focus will turn to winter.
Billups anticipates an increased demand for heating assistance, too.
“We have already started to get phone calls about winter crisis assistance and were in the middle of summer,” he warned. “We’re anticipating that were going to have an exorbitant amount of clients calling in for assistance.”
Even though Step Forward is accepting inquiries about the Winter Crisis Program, such utility bill payments will not be available until November 1st. The agency is waiting for the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to issue the Winter Reconnect Order, which it does annually. The order allows residential customers who are disconnected or about to be disconnected from services to pay up to $175 and still have their service restored or maintained. Billups expects the order to happen on or around October 15th.
“We typically get alerts as soon as the governor issues the order. We send that out to our partners as soon as we receive the information,” Billups explained.
Cuyahoga County residents have also been taking advantage of Step Forward’s “Percentage of Income Payment Plan,” otherwise known as PIIP Plus. The service benefits people who can pay a percentage of their household income each month, would prefer a consistent payment plan and want to work toward eliminating outstanding energy bills.
According to Billups, the state recently increased the income guidelines for PIIP, allowing the nonprofit to serve more people.
“The need is there,” he said.
About 7,585 customers have been placed on a payment plan to maintain their utility services so far this year.
For more information about HEAP and utility assistance, call (216) 350-8008 or click here.