Winter is coming. And in the village of Aniak, that means people are saving up to cover high heating costs. The Aniak Traditional Council is gearing up to help residents cut down on those bills by taking in applications for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program or LIHEAP.
Jasmin Simeon is in charge of a grant awarded under LIHEAP, which gives money to U.S. communities to help low-income households pay energy bills. The program is divided into two types of financial assistance: crisis and regular. A crisis grant means that a household is about to run out of heating fuel within two days, just ran out, or their electricity cut out.
"Basically, it’s a life-threatening emergency or something that’s going to damage the health of the family or severely impact everyday life," Simeon said. "So that means that I have 48 hours to provide heating assistance to that family."
The other type of assistance is a one-time chunk of money for one year to help households with heating costs. Simeon gives out the grant based on the household’s income. Currently, Simeon juggles between 80 and 90 households and determines which households qualify based on the state median income.
"We’re able to cover a broader range of families and people, and those people who might not qualify for other assistance such as general food stamps and stuff like that," Simeon said.
Heating bills take a good chunk of a household’s income in rural Alaska. A typical heating bill can range from $350 to $500 per month "depending on what type of [heating technology] you are using in your home," Simeon said.
Aniak recieved $178,000 for these grants. Some of those funds will cover administrative costs, like Simeon’s salary, but most of it will go to Aniak households. Simeon says that she will also use any available excess funds the Traditional Council has from its reallotment funds.
Simeon says that applicants can apply at the beginning of October, and that the program lasts until the summer. Her goal? To make sure every family and person in Aniak can afford their heating bill without sacrificing other necessities. Simeon uses any outreach method available to make sure that happens.
"I encourage people to always call me. You can call me and say, 'Hey, I don’t know if I’m going to be eligible' and I tell them 'Okay, how much do you think you make?' And then I can pull up my income matrix and say 'Okay, yeah, come apply.' We’ll see what we can do because the main object is to reduce heating costs and improve our quality of life," Simeon said.
She also posts on the Facebook page, Aniak Announcements, visits elders in their homes, and talks to people in the grocery stores about the program. To apply, she says that people should visit her office in the Aniak Traditional Council building or call 907-676-4349.