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Utahans to Get Reduced LIHEAP Benefit

Thousands of Utahans who receive federal help to pay their heating bills will be getting a lot less money as of the first week of March, as state officials anticipate cuts in federal social services spending.

Low-income state residents who receive assistance from Utah’s LIHEAP (also called the Home Energy Assistance Target, or HEAT), will see their benefit drop from an average of $510 to an average of $360 per household.

Utah Division of Housing and Community Development Director Gordon Walker said the move was necessary in the face of certain federal budget cuts — even though Congress has yet to pass a new budget — and the increasing number of households applying for the heat and electric bill assistance.

"We think this is a very prudent decision and that if we take action now, we can serve more families," Walker said. "We know the funds will be decreased."

More than 50,000 Utah households received HEAT benefits in 2010.  Walker said that his agency has seen a 5 percent increase in the number of applications already this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Rather than limit the number of households that receive assistance, the agency decided to lower the benefit amount. Utah can count on at least $2.4 million less for the program, he said.

Walker said the state has been allocating funds to HEAT based on the assumption that federal contingency funds would be released as usual. That assumption changed after President Barack Obama said he wouldn’t release contingency funds.  

Source: Salt Lake Tribune