DHS summer cooling funds going fast

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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Long lines were forming outside the offices of the Department of Human Services (DHS) Monday with Oklahomans struggling to pay their electric bills.

That's because it was the first day that DHS began taking applications for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

The benefits are $200 for a one-person household, or $250 for more people under one roof.

How much was Chelsea Moad's most recent electric bill?

"It was $300 for just a month," she said Monday at her apartment.

This single mom works full-time to make ends meet but she's now staring at a cutoff notice from her electric company.

"Oh, how am I going to pay this," she said. "Who's going to help me? How am I going to get help?"

While talking to us, her little boy became sick from being overheated.

A few minutes earlier, they were in a long line at a DHS office just to apply for a couple hundred dollars of cooling assistance.

How much would that help?

"Oh, a whole bunch," she said. "Tremendously."

"That's our goal," DHS Spokesperson Mark Beutler said. "That's our purpose behind this program is to try to help people stay cool. Help pay their utility bills this one time."

Beutler said last summer, the state helped 96,000 Oklahomans by handing out $22 million in cooling assistance funds.

That money was gone in just three days.

But it could disappear even faster this year because of reduced federal funding and more households being helped.

As a result, the maximum allowable monthly income ceiling has been lowered, so fewer people will qualify.

A one-person household can't make more than $998 a month to be eligible.

But for those who qualify, like Marilyn Rushing, anything helps.

"It's kind of stressful," she said. "You know, when you have to be worrying about if you're going to be able to pay the bill because the bills (in the summer) are higher."

Applicants have to provide their latest electric bill and proof of income.

You can also contact your local utility company about any payment assistance programs they offer.

Click here for more information and to find out if you qualify for DHS LIHEAP money.