Keeping the Heat On

Job losses, reduced hours and benefits, and other effects of the recession have created unprecedented demand for the Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program (WHEAP), also known as Wisconsin Home Energy Plus.

Wendy Urlikson, a WHEAP specialist at the Women’s Employment Project, said her office has been flooded with people looking for assistance this fall.

“There are so many more people applying this year that we’re doing phone appointments for returning applicants and group workshops for new applicants to help handle the volume,” she said.

She’s been told to expect a 50 percent increase in applications over last year, when 900 Door County households applied for assistance. That would mean that almost 1,350 households, or 11.25 percent of the county’s 12,000 total households, are seeking assistance, illustrating just how many people are walking a fine financial line this year.

Urlikson said applying offers three benefits, help with bill payment, entry onto the weatherization assistance list, and crisis assistance.

The primary benefit is assistance with bill payment. Applications are accepted between Oct. 1 and May 15 for the heating and electric benefit, a one-time credit applied to your heating and electric account.

Applicants must provide a social security number for every member of the household, a federal tax return to verify income, and a copy of their latest electric and heating bill. Your assistance level is calculated based on household income for the three months prior to filing the application.

However, the program has a different formula to account for the fact that monthly income for many Door County workers fluctuates drastically with the seasons. For those workers, assistance is calculated based on the average income for the prior 12 months.

The second benefit that comes with applying is that it qualifies you for crisis assistance to help in the case of a furnace emergency or if you are in danger of having your heat shut off, which usually happens after April 15.

The final benefit is entry into the state’s database for weatherization eligibility, which qualifies you for help with insulation, appliances, and windows. Urlikson said many people don’t realize that they can’t apply for weatherization assistance and expect it immediately.

“You need to apply each year to move up the list,” she said. “If you apply this year you may get help next year.”

Numbers to Consider

173,000 households received an average heating assistance payment of $514 in 2009, and 166,000 received an average electric assistance payment of $204

49,323 households received crisis assistance in 2009

The state weatherization program helped 8,445 households install energy conservation measures to reduce consumption, saving an average of $413 a year in energy costs.