Financial help for those in energy crisis

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahomans with low incomes can now receive help with home energy costs. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services is taking applications for those in an “energy crisis.”

Although Oklahoma had a mild winter, there are still thousands of people who need help paying their utility bills.

Terrence Buford knows what it means to struggle on minimum wage.

“They raise gas (prices). Gas goes up, you know,” he said outside a DHS Human Service Center Tuesday morning. “Groceries go up. But you never see minimum wage go up. So that makes it tough out here for people.”

It was even tougher last summer when the heat was relentless.

“The next thing you know, the electricity bill comes out and it’s $200 or $300,” he said. 

When asked if he could afford it, Buford said, “Not really, but I made it work.”

He, along with many other Oklahomans, arrived Tuesday to apply for financial help through the Energy Crisis Assistance Program (ECAP).

Not just anyone struggling can get help.

“This is a little bit different in that this is specifically geared toward people who are facing cutoff notices with the utilities,” DHS Spokesman Mark Beutler said.

Beutler said DHS has about $6 million, roughly the same budget they had last year, to help those who are extremely close to the A/C or heat being shut off.

“You have to be within 72 hours of having your utilities turned off,” he said. “You have to be able to provide documentation of that.”

Other qualifications depend on a household’s monthly net income.

A one-person household can only make $998 a month to qualify for help, while an eight-person home can have a maximum net income of $3,449.

Buford received financial help last summer and says it made all the difference.

“It was very important. It was a blessing,” he said.

Last year, the ECAP program helped 18,834 Oklahoma households with an average payout of $230.

LINK: Find out if you qualify for ECAP here.