By Darren Thornberry  for At Home Northern Colorado

Heating costs this winter are forecast to jump drastically over last year with spikes of 6, 34, and 53 percent for electric, natural gas, and fuel oil, respectively. Times are tough and the last thing Larimer County officials want to see is someone forced to choose between paying for heat, food, or medicine. And for those struggling with the loss of a job or one that doesn’t quite pay all the bills, that’s an all-too-real possibility.

There’s good news, though. Qualified applicants will see relief through the federal Low-income Energy Assistance Program, better known as LEAP. In Larimer County, Goodwill administers LEAP through a partnership with the State of Colorado Department of Human Services which provides home heating assistance to households with income up to 60 percent of the Colorado State Median Income. In simpler terms, the maximum gross income for a household of one is $2,759 or, for a family of four, $5,306.

Goodwill’s mission is heavily focused on helping employ individuals with economic barriers—including those lacking the finances to keep their homes heated in the wintertime. Through the administering of LEAP, Goodwill helps break this barrier and allows residents to focus on their job search and caring for their families.

The LEAP program began November 1 and runs through the April 30, 2022. To qualify for LEAP, applicants must be responsible for paying heating costs to an energy provider, fuel dealer or, as part of their rent; be a resident of Colorado and have at least one U.S. Citizen or Lawfully Permanent Resident as part of the household. LEAP assistance is not intended to pay a household’s entire cost of home heating, so it is important that households continue to pay their heating bills.

According to Theresa Kullen, LEAP manager for the Colorado Department of Human Services, at the time of this writing Larimer County applications are up 8.63 percent over this same time last year. Statewide, it’s 14 percent. “It’s imperative that households that have been okay in the past and not applied understand that they can apply for our program,” says Kullen. “In order for people to stay on top of heating bills, food, and medicine, they should apply.”

The LEAP program is federally funded and benefit levels are set at a rate that ensures everyone who applies and qualifies gets help. The statewide budget is allocated to equitably serve all of Colorado. A household receiving a LEAP benefit is still responsible to pay heating costs directly to the vendor.

In most cases, the energy assistance benefit is paid directly to the household energy supplier. If you are approved for LEAP, typically payments are made directly to your primary heating fuel vendor and a notice will be sent to you informing you of the benefit amount. Other benefits provided by LEAP include repair or replacement of a home’s primary heating system, such as a furnace or wood-burning stove. The program does not provide financial assistance for any type of temporary or portable heating.

LEAP helps eligible Colorado families, seniors and individuals pay a portion of their winter home heating costs. The goal is to help bring warmth, comfort and safety to one’s home and family by assisting with heating costs.

While Goodwill administers LEAP, Larimer County still has a crucial role to play in the success of the program. For example, when a person’s heat is hours away from being shut off and face-to-face contact with a county official is needed to expedite a LEAP application, someone will be there to help. Additionally, sometimes people just plainly enjoy being able to walk into a county office with a paper application. Someone will be there to receive it. If you think you might qualify for LEAP and a partial credit on your bill during the cold winter months would help, please apply today.