Almost 30,000 Kansans are still waiting to find out whether they’ll receive Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) funds, even though they applied months ago and winter weather is ending.
To receive benefits, applicants must have incomes at or below 150% of the 2022 federal poverty level, which was $20,385 per year or $1,699 per month for a household of one. For perspective, the annual income needed to afford a one-bedroom unit at fair market rates in Douglas County this fiscal year without being cost-burdened by rent is $33,440.
The Kansas Department for Children and Families began accepting applications on Jan. 3. Atlas Foxx said they applied the same day, but they have not seen relief for their bill.
For Foxx, waiting has meant accruing credit card debt to make it through winter.
“This has made it to where I have had to allocate money for my gas bill,” Foxx said. “I’ve had to put a lot of things on credit cards. I do know that this is impacting others more than me, but it is a burden to have to dish out $100 to $150 a month.”
The application window closed March 31. About 46,500 Kansans applied to LIEAP this year, representing an almost 33% increase over the 35,000 who applied last year.
Only 18,000 of the applications have been processed, leaving about 28,500 still waiting.
Poring over those thousands of applications are 25 workers, making $15.76 hourly and eight “subject matter expert staff” making $18.26 per hour, according to numbers supplied by Mike Deines, senior director of public and governmental affairs for DCF.
“The most significant barrier is staffing,” Deines said in an email interview. “DCF like many other employers is facing challenges attracting and retaining staff. LIEAP staff are temporary, non-benefits eligible staff hired specifically for the LIEAP season. Most are looking for permanent jobs so they may leave in the middle of the season if they find something that meets their needs.”
An extra 20 workers will start sifting through applications soon, Deines said. And he anticipates they will finish the approval process by late August, which is on target with previous years.
“We anticipate processing will speed up since phone inquiry volume should decline as we move through processing,” he said.
LIEAP prioritizes applicants who have received shut-off notices and people who require electricity to use medical equipment. Workers have already processed the high-priority cases, Deines said.
Rowan Scheuring, who applied in March, is concerned that funds will be exhausted by the time her application is reviewed. She is also upset at the fact she and others have had to divert money from other essential items to pay energy bills.
“My biggest concern with the slow process of approving applications is that we’ve had to cut costs on important things like medical care and go into debt in order to make sure that the electric and gas bills are covered,” she said.
There is nothing to indicate that funds will be exhausted before processing all applications, Deines said.
LIEAP is federally funded. The amount of assistance people receive varies based on income, household size, residence and heating type. The average benefit in 2021 was $1,389 per year, according to DCF.
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Chansi Long (she/her) reported for The Lawrence Times from July 2022 through August 2023. Read more of her work for the Times here.