Millions of dollars in cuts proposed by Congress and President Obama mean that there likely will be less aid to go around.
Fewer households might receive the aid, said Ingrid Simmons, who oversees the program in five local counties through the nonprofit REAL Services.
Also, the amount of aid that each household receives from EAP could drop this season -- down by an average of $150 per household, she said. That's set at the state level, not by her office.
"The benefits were lowered to ensure that as many households as possible would receive assistance," Simmons said.
That's especially important because homes that enroll in EAP are protected from utility shut-off between Dec. 1 and March 15.
Another change in the Energy Assistance Program this year, Simmons said, is that the applicant's utility bill must be in the name of an adult household member. So, applicants can no longer present a bill in their young son's or daughter's name.
Also Tuesday, low-income NIPSCO customers can start seeking aid from the company's CARE and hardship programs. The federal cuts don't affect these programs.
CARE reduces natural gas bills by 11 percent to 26 percent for customers of the Northern Indiana Public Service Co. Officials there say that any one of its customers who enroll in EAP are automatically enrolled in CARE.
NIPSCO's hardship program offers up to $200 in gas bill aid for customers whose income is too much to qualify for CARE.
To qualify for both EAP and NIPSCO CARE, the household income must be 150 percent or less of the federal poverty level. That's $16,335 per year for a family of one, $22,065 for a family of two, $27,795 for a family of three, $33,525 for a family of four and $39,255 for a family of five.
For NIPSCO's hardship program, the income must be 200 percent or less of the poverty level ($21,780 per year for a family of one, $29,420 for a family of two, $37,060 for a family of three, $44,700 for a family of four and $52,340 for a family of five).
Where to call
To apply for the Energy Assistance Program and for NIPSCO's aid programs, contact REAL Services in Elkhart, Fulton, Kosciusko, Marshall or St. Joseph counties. More details are at www.realservices.org. Call 800-225-3367 or call the offices directly starting Tuesday.
- St. Joseph County: 574-232-6501
- Elkhart County: 574-875-1875