Good news for clients of social program



Nearly half a million dollars in federal funding is tentatively earmarked for south King County to help needy families pay their home-heating bills.

The money is part of a $300 million appropriation Congress wants for the nationwide Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The national financial package, which is awaiting the approval of President Bush, would fill a budget gap his administration proposed for LIHEAP late last year.

The congressional version of the funding would mean another 1,173 families in south King County can get help this winter, said Bernie Hughes, head of the energy assistance program administered locally by the Multi-Service Center.

The Bush administration had requested $1.4 billion for LIHEAP nationally in 2003. That amount would be $300 million less than the program received last year. LIHEAP administrators across the country said such a cut, combined with higher numbers of families seeking assistance, would have a serious impact on people struggling to keep their homes warm.

Multi-Service Center officials, noting they already were turning away some applicants, estimated that rejected applications by their agency would top 700 under the Bush plan.

Hughes said the recent severe cold weather in East Coast and Midwest states prompted Congress to go above the president’s proposal, “and that will mean a lot to our area.” said Hughes.

The funding legislation, which Congress has approved but requires Bush’s signature before being finalized, will add $471,343 to LIHEAP for the Multi-Service Center. The center originally stood to receive about 18 percent less funding than in 2002.

Qualified applicants received an average of $408 in assistance last year and $360 in 2001.

Low-income families can make an appointment with the Federal Way-based agency to learn if they qualify for assistance by calling 874-4328 or 1-800-422-1384.

The center bases the need for LIHEAP assistance on the weekly count of families using the center’s food bank. In September 2001, about 180 families a week used the food bank. Last year, 1,050 families were served the week before Thanksgiving.

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