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WSOS helps more than 1,700 with heating assistance this past winter

WSOS Emergency Home Energy Assistance Program (EHEAP) staff helped more than 1,700 residents receive utility assistance this past winter.

The EHEAP program provided emergency utility assistance for Ottawa, Sandusky, Seneca and Wood County. While numbers have yet to be finalized, the total of approved EHEAP applications in the region stands at 1,713. In each county, EHEAP assisted:

Wood  — 585 households
Sandusky — 516 households
Ottawa  — 249 households
Seneca  — 363 households

Each winter season from November through March, EHEAP staff assist clients who are facing utility disconnects or fuel shortages. Eligible households—those that are at 175 percent or below Federal Poverty Guidelines (e.g. $42,525 annual income/family of four)—are assisted through utility payments that are applied directly to the customers’ utility bills or fuel supply bills. This assistance ensures that residents do not go without heat during the winter season.

Additionally, staff can assist clients with enrolling in the Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) Plus program that is available to those who are at or below 150 percent of Federal Poverty Guidelines (e.g. $36,450 annual income/family of four). PIPP allows eligible clients to pay a monthly fixed utility rate based on their income. PIPP clients who make full monthly, on-time payments can receive a credit for outstanding utility bills, and can eventually eliminate past utility debts over a 24-month period.

Both the EHEAP and PIPP programs can work hand-in-hand, WSOS Basic Needs Specialist Joyce McCauley-Benner said. Allowing people the chance to have affordable utility payment plans through PIPP can help people avoid the possibility of shut-offs, and thus, the need for emergency assistance through EHEAP.

“When bills are more manageable, people tend to pay them and not fall into disconnect,” McCauley-Benner said.

While staff must work efficiently to serve the volume of clients in the winter months, staff also always make a point to treat clients kindly and respectfully, McCauley-Benner said.

“The previous supervisor, Brian Taylor, and myself had a vision that getting help from a government program should not be a miserable experience,” McCauley-Benner said. “We were intent on creating a non-judgmental, compassionate atmosphere. Everyone needs help in some way from time to time and we wanted to decrease the stigma around applying for this type of financial assistance.”

Client comments on WSOS Customer Satisfaction Surveys speak very highly of EHEAP/PIPP staff as being professional and compassionate. Some recent comments include:

“These ladies have always showed me a lot of respect. They are very pleasant to talk to and have really good attitudes.”

“Thank you for the help. I was treated with great respect and did not feel humiliated or less than.”

“She made me feel welcome and like I was a real person and not ashamed that I needed help.”

“Very efficient, kind and professional!”

Comments such as these demonstrate the positive impact staff have on clients.

“We wanted to build a team that supports that vision,” McCauley-Benner said. “It’s clear from the comments that the team is doing an awesome job of it!”

While EHEAP has ended for the season, those interested in enrolling in the Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) Plus may do so by contacting WSOS at 1-888-441-4327 or 419-334-8911, or visit www.wsos.org and view the “Utility Assistance” tab on the main page.