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Indiana's Energy Assistance Program helps Hoosiers with utility costs

A "meter reader" in a green shirt examines electrical meters outside of a brick building
Lauren Chapman
IPB News
The state’s program is funded through a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

A state program is helping Hoosiers pay their utility and heating costs. Indiana’s Energy Assistance Program provides one-time household benefits to qualifying Hoosiers to assist with utility payments and prevent disconnection.

Thomas Hartnett-Russell is the community programs manager for the EAP – which is provided through the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority.

He said the state’s program is funded through a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“It allots a portion of funding to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, all U.S. territories and several tribal nations in order to provide for the rising costs of home energy for what's qualified as low-income households,” he said.

Hartnett-Russell said because this grant is awarded to many states, each state is able to be flexible in how they distribute assistance. For Indiana, Hartnett-Russell said this has involved finding a balance between providing “substantial” assistance while extending this assistance to many applicants.

We're providing what we think is going to be a substantial, meaningful benefit that's really going to make a difference for people while still making sure that that that's small enough that we can spread it out to a large population of approved applicants,” he said.

Hartnett-Russell said this program operates on an annual timeline, offering help for eligible Hoosiers with their heating and electric costs for the organization’s fiscal year – which is from Oct. 1- Sept. 30.

He said the benefits are paid directly to the utility company unless utilities are paid for as a part of someone’s rent.

“If the landlord actually provides their utilities and they pay for it through the rent, then those households do still qualify for the program and they receive they receive a direct benefit payment in order to help basically pay for that portion of their rent that pays for their utilities,” Hartnett-Russell said.

READ MORE: What are some cheap ways to save on heat this winter?

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He said another benefit to the program that can prevent Hoosiers from being disconnected from their utilities for nonpayment is the state’s Winter Shutoff Moratorium.

“From Dec. 1 through March 15 of any year, any household that qualifies for and has applied for the Energy Assistance Program may not be turned off for nonpayment between those dates,” he said.

He said this serves as an “extra cushion” for Hoosiers who may be falling behind on payments during the winter.

Hartnett-Russell said Hoosiers must meet a certain income threshold to apply for this program.

“Any household that can show they make 60 percent of the state median income or less can qualify for this benefit,” he said.

Hartnett-Russell encouraged Hoosiers to not try to self-determine if their income fits this threshold and to instead apply if they feel they need help.

He said more than 120,000 Hoosiers applied for aid through the program last year. He said he is hopeful more people will see this program as an option to help them if they need.

“So while we think it's regrettable, that there is that much need out there, we are encouraged by the fact that it seems like more people seem to be aware of it and more people seem to be applying for it,” he said.

Hartnett-Russell said there have already been more applications this year than last year.

“This time last year, we had 43,000 approved applications,” he said. “As of last week, for this year, we have so far approved 57,000. So that's a pretty significant jump from where we were.”

He encouraged any Hoosier who feels they need assistance to apply, even if they are unsure if their income fits the exact threshold.

Violet is our daily news reporter. Contact her at vcomberwilen@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @ComberWilen.