For the second year, Colorado’s Low-Income Energy Assistance Program is receiving a record number of applications to start the heating season, as the cost of energy and other necessities continues to rise and many Coloradans struggle to afford their bills.
The federally funded statewide program helps eligible people and families pay a portion of their winter home heating bills by making a one-time payment directly to the utility company on their behalf.
More than 71,000 Coloradans have applied for the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program, also called LEAP. That’s a 12% increase in the number of applications received this year compared with this time last season.
Eligible families can receive between $200 and $1,000 in energy assistance, depending on the type of heating fuel they need, their income and other factors. Applications will be accepted through April 30.
“Rents are higher, housing costs are higher, food is much more expensive and medicine is getting much more expensive,” said Theresa Kullen, Colorado’s LEAP program manager.
“We’re living in an economic situation where the impacts can be devastating enough that people have to either take food off their table or cut down medications to an unsafe amount,” she said. “And we don’t want, ever, to see a household have to make choices of that nature in order to live in a home with a safe indoor temperature.”
10,000 more applications than the same time in 2022
In 2022, the program received 16% more applications than in 2021, Kullen said. And this year, the program’s administrative agencies have already received almost 10,000 more applications compared to last year at this same time.
People are applying for assistance in higher numbers from all areas across the state.
“And it’s not even that cold yet,” Kullen said. “The recent temperatures in the last few days have gotten chilly but we haven’t seen our worst time of winter. To see the increase so early on in the year is showing that this need is real and that people are really needing our help.”
LEAP program employees have already approved 55% of the applications received so far this year for almost 40,000 people. Many applications are still pending as LEAP employees sort through such a high volume of requests, Kullen said.
The program is designed to help households with the highest energy costs, and the lowest incomes, by giving them the highest payment amounts. Typically, the highest payments help people who heat their homes with propane and electricity.
To qualify for LEAP, Coloradans’ gross incomes must be no more than 60% of the state’s median income, or $3,081 per month for a one person household and $5,926 per month for a household of four.
On-the-ground ways to lower heating bills
In addition to applying for LEAP, there are other steps Coloradans can take to lower their heating bills. People can ensure their home’s furnace is ready for winter by having it inspected by a professional and changing the furnace filter every three months during the winter. Sealing gaps around doors and windows can also help maintain heat on cold days.
Those who are not able to receive funds from LEAP may have another opportunity to get help from Energy Outreach Colorado, a nonprofit that also provides home energy assistance.
The organization was founded more than 30 years ago to support the LEAP program, said Denise Stepto, a spokesperson at Energy Outreach Colorado.
Many people who apply for assistance through Energy Outreach Colorado are those who couldn’t get any help or enough help through the LEAP program, she said.
The organization has a year-round bill payment assistance program that helps people pay their utility costs.
During the week that ended Dec. 10, the bill payment assistance program had received 561 applications and the organization spent $414,000 to help people with past due bills or costs they were unable to pay.
Energy Outreach Colorado encourages people to first apply for assistance through LEAP. If people qualify for LEAP, they could also become eligible to receive help through Energy Outreach Colorado’s furnace repair and replacement program, its home energy efficiency upgrades program and possibly others.
Through its furnace repair and replacement program, Energy Outreach Colorado organization helped about 2,600 households across the state this year and it spent just over $10 million through that effort, Stepto said.
MORE: To find the LEAP application, visit cdhs.colorado.com/leap. People can also call the heat helpline at 1-866-432-8435 to receive an application by mail or email or visit their local county department of human services office to pick up or drop off an application.