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June 29, 2022

Worried about cost of AC this sizzling summer? Utah might be able to help

Charlotte Evans and Bart Evans sell popsicles during a heat wave in Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 14, 2021. With record-breaking temperatures, Utah officials are letting residents know financial assistance is available for those who can’t afford to keep their air conditioners running. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — As areas throughout Utah continue to experience record-breaking heat, state officials want residents to know help is available for those who can’t afford to keep their air conditioners running.

Salt Lake expects to surpass heat records on Sunday and Monday, with temperatures reaching 103 and 105 degrees, according to KSL meteorologists.

“The temperatures are scary high right now, so we just want to make sure people are aware,” said Sisifo Taatiti, manager of the Home Energy Assistance Target program, or HEAT, within the Department of Workforce Services.

“With rising costs associated with housing, many families are struggling to make ends meet,” she said. “Helping clients through this difficult time is important to us, and we believe it improves the quality of life for our fellow citizens across the state.”

The HEAT program offers help paying energy costs year-round to those who make below 150% of the federal poverty level, which is about $39,750 for a family of four. Since last October, the program distributed funding to 27,000 households, officials said.

There’s still “plenty of funding” left to help others, as the state recently received another $32 million in supplemental money from the government through the American Rescue Plan, Taatiti said.

She said the program currently only serves about 20% of households that could potentially qualify based on census data — meaning many might not know the money is available.

Households with the highest energy burden in relation to their household income, as well as those with vulnerable household members like children, people with disabilities and older adults, are given priority for the assistance, officials said. Those who haven’t applied for the program since October 2020 are eligible.

To quality for the program, one must also be a U.S. citizen or eligible immigrant and be directly responsible for paying their utility bills. The program can cover a recipient’s primary source of heat or cooling, including gas, electric, propane, wood or fuel.

Local partner agencies across the state determine each applicant’s eligibility and distribute one-time funding directly to a recipient’s utility vendor, which holds onto the full amount as a credit. Benefits vary based on household size and income. The maximum benefit (for someone with zero income) whose primary source of energy is electricity or gas is $700 per year. The maximum benefit for someone whose primary source of energy is propane is $850 per year.

Crisis assistance is also available for those whose power is shut off due to an uncontrollable circumstance like a job loss or death in the family, Taatiti said.

Before 2020, residents could only apply for the program during a short period, except in Washington County and Ogden. Now, applications remain open year-round, she added.

Those who are elderly or disabled who have already received the HEAT benefit, as well as those who are applying, can also get help if they need a new air conditioner unit or if their current unit needs to be repaired. The weatherization assistance program can help ensure their homes are energy efficient.

The program is funded through a federal grant. To learn more, visit jobs.utah.gov/heat or call 2-1-1.

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