As the temperatures continue to fall, the thermostats are going up -- unfortunately for many Grand Valley residents, so are energy costs. But county officials say there is some good news on the horizon -- they have more money to help some stay warm this winter.
With the rising costs of natural gas, Xcel Energy says customers can expect up to a 12 percent increase in their energy bills this winter. Mix that in with a slumping national economy, increasing housing and food costs, and it's bad news for many in the Grand Valley.
"It's like oh my gosh, one more thing," said Mesa County resident Teresa Burris.
"Folks on a fixed income or low income just aren't being able to make ends meat," said Karen Martsolf, spokesperson for the Mesa County Department of Human Services. "They don't have that extra two or three hundred dollars a month to pay their heating bill."
Martsolf says that's where the Low Income Energy Assistance Program -- or LEAP -- comes in to play. The program gives families a lump sum to help pay their heating bills from November through April.
"It's been a great program for me," said Burris. "I'm a single mom with twins and it just really helps out a lot."
Thanks to a boost in federal funding, officials say this year LEAP will be able to help families even more.
"Last year families could expect an average benefit of about two-hundred fifty dollars," said Martsolf. "This year the average benefit per household is three-hundred fifty dollars."
Last year, more than 4,600 families received LEAP benefits. Based on what they've seen so far this year, officials expect that number to shoot up.
"We started accepting applications on Monday," said Martsolf. "As of Wednesday we had received over eight hundred applications."
Officials say a family of four making around $3,200 a month will qualify for LEAP benefits. They're encouraging anyone who thinks they may qualify to apply.
"When you're looking at potentially paying three or four hundred dollars a month for your heating bills, any little bit will help," said Martsolf.
For more information on LEAP, call Mesa County 211.
LEAP applications can be picked up and dropped off at the Mesa County Community Services Building on 29 1/2 Road. Officials want to remind residents interested in LEAP to bring their Colorado ID with them when they apply. You can turn in applications anytime now through April.
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