Counties struggling to process HEAP applications
WAYNE COUNTY, N.Y. – Some of the local county offices that handle HEAP applications say staffing shortages are putting them behind in processing HEAP applications this winter. In the meantime, those who normally qualify for the Home Energy Assistance Program, are trying to keep up with their bills.
Alyson Holloway knew she was going to need a little help with the cost of staying warm this winter, “I always apply for HEAP on the first day that they accept applications which is usually around early November,” she tells News10NBC. But this year’s application, dated November 2nd is still waiting for processing at the Wayne County Department of Social Services.
“Somebody answered the phone and said there’s only one person doing (processing) them and they ask if you have an emergency, if you have a shutoff notice,” Holloway recalls of when she called to check in. She didn’t want to get into an emergency situation so, she’s been paying her utility bill out of pocket, sometimes at the expense of other necessities.
“She told me to just keep paying, it’s going to be a while,” Holloway says, but that’s easier said than done, “it’s hard because I continue to struggle like everyone else.”
Lisa Graf, the director of the Wayne County Department of Social Services tells News10NBC that staffing shortages have caused a backlog in processing HEAP applications this season.
While roughly 4,100 people who were already enrolled in low-income programs like SNAP or TANF got HEAP benefits automatically, about 2,200 others in Wayne County who likely qualify, have to be processed manually and that’s on top of about 900 emergency applications from folks facing shut-off notices.
Graf says there’s been about a 50% turnover rate in her department over the last year and while employees are working overtime and she’s pulled employees from other departments to help, they are still working through the applications. The Wayne County Board of Supervisors recently approved the hiring of two additional temporary employees to help.
Wayne County is not alone with these social service staffing shortages. A number of other DSS directors across the region, tell News10NBC they are having troubling finding and hiring people to process paperwork for those who very likely qualify for public assistance programs.
“I’m afraid they’re going to run out of money and I’m going to be totally shafted and my budget for next year, which begins next billing cycle is going to go up because with NYSEG, they automatically give you a discount because you get HEAP, so my bill would go up another $36 per month,” explains Holloway of her concerns.
Graf says emergency applications are prioritized, but neither program is likely to run out of money. Once the applications are processed, the grants will go directly to the utility company and be credited to the customer’s bill and account.