Grant to help Mid-Coumbia residents pay for heat

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldNovember 16, 2012 

A Mid-Columbia nonprofit will use an estimated $1 million in federal money to help struggling Benton and Franklin county residents pay their home heating costs.

Community Action Connections, or CAC, announced the grant Thursday. Funding will come through the state Commerce Department as part of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

CAC has participated in the program for several years, although the amount it is being granted for the 2012-13 cycle is down some from last year's amount.

CAC officials estimate they'll be able to assist about 2,200 households using the funds, focusing on disabled seniors and families with young children.

Providing energy assistance is a way to help people stay in their homes, officials said.

"If they (lose) heat and power, it can be a domino effect," said Cathy Merrill Holle, director of the agency's HomeBase Center.

CAC has offices in Pasco, Prosser, Benton City and Connell, and provides services ranging from food and housing assistance to GED prep. It helps thousands of people each year, many of them categorized as "working poor," meaning they are employed but still struggle to make ends meet.

The money that CAC dispenses for heating costs typically goes directly to the energy providers. People must register to begin the application process. Forms will be available starting Monday online at bfcac.org, at the CAC offices or from Mid-Columbia energy providers. The program has limited space.

Dalia Ochoa, who coordinates the energy assistance for CAC, said those who hope to receive aid should continue paying their heating costs or work with their energy providers on a payment plan as they apply. The funds that CAC can provide to households through the program may not be enough to cover reconnection costs after a cut-off, she said.

CAC received $1.5 million in funding two years ago, serving about 3,500 households in the Mid-Columbia. It received about $1.2 million in the previous cycle, which helped about 2,400 households.

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com

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