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Cuts to heating funds could leave seniors in the cold
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Ninth District Opportunity, Inc. (NDO) expected an increase in need this year before it even announced dates for enrollment in the Low Income Heat Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

LIHEAP is a federally funded program that assists low-income households with energy costs, especially during the winter months.

There are so many more people who need assistance this year, said Alice Williamson, community resource coordinator for Dawson/Ninth District Opportunity, Inc.

The phone calls started pouring in last Tuesday Nov. 1, at 9 a.m. and by noon the 90 available slots were filled.

When all of the slots had been filled, I had to start explaining to callers that we could not give anymore appointments at this time, Williamson said. We had to start putting applicants on a waiting list.

This is a major concern for Dawson County seniors.

The need is greater, so many seniors depend on this program, because the price of gas is extremely high, said Margie Weaver, director of Dawson Senior Center & Services.

Last year, NDO and LIHEAP served 366 Dawson County households.

This year I have enough funds to serve approximately 100 households, but I am hoping to receive funds to assist 100 more, said Williamson Monday afternoon.

As of Monday, NDO had 50 households on its waiting list.

There are not many options available for seniors in need who do not receive federal assistance. If they have a wood-burning heater in their home, the Dawson County Sheriffs Office assists by providing firewood obtained by cutting down trees on the right-of-way.

If they dont have wood-burning heaters, and they cant afford the gas, they go buy electric heaters, said Weaver. Then, they may stay warm for a month, until their power bill is due, because they cant afford to pay their power bill.

When Weaver explained to the seniors that there werent enough funds this year to assist everyone in need, they became very upset and worried.

I told them they needed to contact their congressman, Weaver said, there is nothing NDO can do if the federal funds have been cut.

On Wednesday, NDO, Inc. received a phone call from the Washington, DC office of Congressman Tom Graves.

The representative told me they had received an influx of calls from Dawson County seniors about the heating program, Williamson said. They ask me to please stop encouraging the seniors to contact them.

Williamson explained that she had not encouraged them to call but the seniors are upset and worried and dont know what they will do without assistance.

Dawson News & Advertiser contacted Congressman Graves about the heating program cuts.

Federal funding for fiscal year 2012 is not yet finalized, said Tim Baker, a spokesman for Graves. Congressman Graves will continue to monitor the situation closely and keep his constituents concerns in mind as Congress works to finalize federal spending for the remainder of this fiscal year.

Weaver is worried for the countys senior citizens.

We dont know what they will do, Weaver said, They are frightened and I am frightened for them.