LEAP — help for heating bills is still available

In the current, dismal economy, the unemployment rate is the worst it has been in 25 years while mortgage delinquencies are at an all time high. It is no wonder that in this dire time more and more families are having trouble paying to heat their homes.

Colorado’s Low-Income Energy Assistance Program, which has already helped numerous hard working families pay their heating bills this winter, wants Coloradans to know that aid is still available.

LEAP provides cash assistance to help families and individuals pay winter home heating costs. The program pays the highest benefits to those with the highest heating bills and lowest incomes by family size. Applicant income cannot exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty index, which equals a maximum income of $3,269 per month before taxes for a household of four people. The anticipated average LEAP benefit for 2008-2009 is approximately $430 per family.

“As of March 13, LEAP has helped more than 83,000 Coloradans pay their utility bill, a figure up about 12 percent from the same time last year,” said Colorado LEAP director Todd Jorgensen. “Even though LEAP has helped many people this year, there are still funds available and time left in the LEAP season for others to apply for the program.”

Thankfully, LEAP has received increased funding, enabling the program to respond to the rising demand, helping more people than ever before. A bill passed by Congress last September raised Colorado’s LEAP funding from $40 million to $80 million for the 2008/2009 winter season. This funding increase has enabled LEAP to raise its minimum benefit by 75 percent or approximately $350 per household, up from $200 last year. The maximum benefit has increased from $700 to about $900, a raise of approximately 25 percent.

Coloradans have until April 30, 2009, to apply for the program, and those applicants should be patient. Applications can take up to 50 days to be processed and to date, the state has already received more than 113,000 applications. If you wish to find the status of your application, call toll-free (866) 432-8435. Delays in processing are usually the result of incomplete or missing information on the submitted application.

Coloradans may qualify for emergency LEAP application processing if one of the following criteria is met: have had their utilities disconnected or are about to be disconnected; or use propane or firewood and are about to run out, or have already run out of propane or firewood. LEAP’s emergency application will process within 10 days. Those with a serious urgency, such as a shut-off notice from their utility provider, can contact their county office for immediate help.

To find out if you qualify for LEAP, call toll-free (866) 432-8435. Applications for LEAP are accepted anytime between Nov. 1 and April 30 of each year. For more information about LEAP, please call the number listed above or visit www.cdhs.state.co.us/leap/index.htm to view the most current program application requirements.