Dealing with the bitter cold is a winter rite of passage that Ohioans know all too well. For some it’s a nuisance; for others, the ability to brave an Ohio winter is a badge of honor. But for too many families, the cold weather isn’t just an inconvenience — it’s a safety hazard that threatens their family’s health and budget.
In the winter months, Ohioans’ gas and electric bills often skyrocket, and for those already struggling to get by, this additional expense can force agonizing choices. The threat of hypothermia means turning off the heat is not an option, yet often low-income families live in older homes and rental housing without good insulation. For seniors living on a fixed income, an increase in utility bills can be devastating to their budgets.
And when elderly and low-income Ohioans are forced to pay high heating costs to keep their homes warm, they can be forced to cut back on other necessities — like buying groceries or paying for medicine. No one should have to choose between heating their home and buying groceries or filling a prescription.
That’s why I have fought for funding for Ohio’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, which helps hardworking low-income families cover their home energy costs. During the 2013-2014 winter, more than 420,000 Ohio families used LIHEAP to keep their heat on during frigid temperatures.
Last fall, I called on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to release new funds for this winter and, in October, HHS announced more than $130 million in funding for Ohio’s LIHEAP.
But too many Ohio families don’t realize they’re eligible for help with their heating bills. Families with household incomes up to 175 percent of the federal poverty level can receive assistance from LIHEAP—that means up to $42,437 for a family of four. Ohioans can visit https://development.ohio.gov/is/is_heap.htm or call (800) 282-0880 for more information and to apply for LIHEAP.
In America, no senior should have to worry about freezing in their own home. A single, working parent shouldn’t have to choose between keeping the heat on and paying for food for his children. All Ohio families need to know that while the winter might be unpleasant, it doesn’t have to break the bank, and it should never be deadly.
The writer is a U.S. senator from Ohio.