Jasmine Sierra works with OCOA Case Manager Damaris Gutierrez to see if she qualifies for its Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. PHOTO/OSCEOLA COUNCIL ON AGINGWith the holiday season comes cooler Central Florida temperatures, thus higher energy bills, unfortunately. For many, those increased electric costs are difficult to budget, just as increased AC costs can be troublesome during the dog days of summer.

The Osceola Council on Aging manages the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), national program supporting Osceola County residents in need of financial support for home energy bills. The mission is to assist lowincome households to meet immediate home energy needs. The program, part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, is funded by federal government grants.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity administers LIHEAP and allocates funding directly to local agency providers throughout the state. The OCOA is one of those local agencies. While managing LIHEAP, the Council serves more than 3,000 households annually equating to financial support for an average of 8,000 individuals a year. The annual budget to support the program for our community averages between $1-2 million. Multiple requirements are needed to qualify for financial assistance, though program eligibility is based on three categories:

Home Energy Assistance Program: Supports eligible households in meeting the cost of overall home energy costs. If the residence has received home energy assistance over the past 12-month period, the residence is ineligible.

Crisis Assistance Program: Supports eligible households who have lost or are in immediate danger of losing access to home energy services.

Weather Related Assistance Program: This program is utilized upon declaration or order by the Department of Community Affairs, the Governor, or President that a crisis or emergency exists due to weather related conditions.

To be eligible, the household must reside in Osceola County and be at or below 60-percent of the state median income ($2,757 monthly for a household of two, $4,054 for four) and should have a past due utility bill or have been recently disconnected (for the Crisis Assistance Program)

Documentation will be needed for application: Social Security card for all members of the household and ID for adults, a month of pay stubs, and documents for Social Security, unemployment, food stamps or other government assistance award letter.

The Council also collaborates with various Osceola community business partners to support residents needing support for energy costs. An example is the Kissimmee Utility Authority’s Good Neighbor Program. Donations collected are then disbursed to the Council, which is responsible for administering to residents. KUA then matches all contributions dollar-for-dollar.

A popular program is the Good Neighbor Round Up in which customers’ bills are “rounded up” to the next highest dollar, and the cents are donated.

For more information on either of these programs, contact the Council at info@osceolacoa.com or call 407-846-8532 for an appointment. To learn about applying online for energy assi stance needs, go to www. osceolagenerations.org.

In the meantime, the next time you open your KUA electric bill, think about supporting the “gift of giving” this holiday season and help your Osceola neighbors who could benefit from the KUA Good Neighbor Program.

To see more guest columns by Wendy, go to https://osceolagenerations.org/councils-corner/

Published Thursday,  December 16, 2021