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OK Suspends LIHEAP Open Enrollment

November 8, 2011 -- Federal aid reductions for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) have forced the Oklahoma Department of Human Services to stop accepting clients and slash the benefits for those who will receive aid, DHS officials said this week.

DHS programs manager Kathy Wright said the state agency has no choice.

"We want to stress that it's not us who are cutting these funds," she said in a news release. "It's simply tied to the federal budget, which has yet to be approved. We can only operate with what we know we have, which is significantly less."

Funding for LIHEAP is about one-third of what it was a year ago - about $16 million. It helps low-income familes with home energy costs, including winter heat, summer cooling and energy crisis.

Usually, DHS has an open application time for people needing help with winter heating bills. It was to start December 1, Wright said.

"Because of the drastically reduced funds this year, we will only offer assistance to pre-approved households or those who already receive benefits through other DHS programs and identified as most vulnerable," she stated.

"This goes against the very core of our mission at DHS, which is to help Oklahomans in need. However, with limited funds from the federal government we can only do what we can with what we have."

For those receiving help, the amounts will be greatly reduced from previous years.

"We were faced with some very tough decisions this year," Wright said. "We could keep the same dollar amount paid to households in past years and help less people. Or, we could reduce the dollar amount to each household and try to help as many Oklahomans as possible. We opted for that decision."

If Congress approves a budget with the assistance program funded at a higher rate than anticipated, DHS will consider taking new applications later.

Source: Tulsa World