Money runs out for energy assistance program

Low-income people struggling to pay their heating bills will get no more help from the Snohomish County Energy Assistance Office this winter unless more federal emergency heating help becomes available.

The office that helps people pay energy bills during winter months stopped taking new appointments Wednesday, said Bill Beuscher, supervisor of the county’s Energy Assistance Program.

He said the county has burned through its $1.4 million budget for this winter and projects it will need another $380,000 to help an estimated 800 families.

Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon on Tuesday asked local congressional leaders to petition President Bush to free up the additional funding. The money is already set aside; it simply requires a presidential spending authorization, Beuscher said.

So far this winter, Beuscher’s office has helped 1,447 families with the federally funded Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The office has funding to help another 2,000 families that had made appointments for assistance before Wednesday.

Families that have appointments are encouraged to not miss them. The typical family that qualifies for assistance receives about $400. The money is sent directly to the Snohomish County PUD to pay down the family’s energy bill.

The energy assistance office also expects to fall short of helping all of the Puget Sound Energy natural gas customers who need help. Beuscher said more money also could be funneled into that program.

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