Program offers heating help

William Thompson

Quay County residents who need help with their utility bills this winter can find some relief at the New Mexico Human Services office on West Route 66 Boulevard. The state’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance program is in operation, offering eligible residents a one-time payout.
Esther Blea, handles the applications for utility bill assistance. She said more than 200 residents have applied for the benefits. “The one-page application is easy to fill out. A person can come in and apply for the benefits in about 10-15 minutes. It takes us about 30 days to process the application.”

Blea said the average payout is about $127. She said the money goes directly to the resident’s gas company or fuel provider. “We can offer as much as $180 in assistance, but the amount given is based on a 12-point scale. The points are determined by information supplied in the application.”

Mark Gray, who heads the state’s human services office in Tucumcari, said there are several criteria involved in determining the amount of benefits. “The size of the benefit is determined by the type of energy used in the home, the number of “vulnerable” household members, the income of the residents and the average of monthly utility bills,” said Gray. “Vulnerable” individuals are members of the household who are under six years old or over 60 years old, or those who are disabled.”

The energy assistance program can authorize only one payout in a given year. Some residents have told human services personnel that the assistance given is not enough, according to Blea. “There are a number of people who claim they need more money, but all I can do is tell them I’m sorry, and that they will have to wait until next year for more benefits.”

Frances Sisneros, county supervisor for human services, said residents can be referred to other agencies.
“If the customer needs further help or financial assistance, we can refer them to other agencies or charitable groups that might be able to help them,” she said. “We can’t give preferential treatment to some customers.” Gray said as cold weather approaches, more residents will be requesting help with heating bills. “We encourage anyone needing help to come in and apply,” said Gray. “RIght now we have enough money to be able to offer some help to everyone eligible. The money we give is meant as a supplement.”