CAP seeking warmer, safer process for winter energy assistance registration

You shouldn’t have to freeze to sign up for heating assistance.

Concerned that many people expose themselves to cold and wet weather, Lower Columbia CAP is rethinking how it signs up people up for an annual energy assistance program for the needy.

Each year, on one day in November, 800 to 900 people line up outside the CAP building to get an appointment to sign up for the federally funded Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. It is first-come, first-served, and some people camp out overnight to be among the first to get an appointment when the CAP doors open at 8 a.m., CAP officials note.

“We have become increasingly concerned about people putting themselves at risk in the wet and cold weather,” CAP Executive Director Ilona Kerby said in a prepared statement. “We want to see if there is a more customer-friendly way to conduct the energy sign-up process.”

There is far greater demand for the help than there is assistance to dish out. Based on state census figures, CAP estimates that the federal funds it receives can serve only about 35 percent of the qualifying households. In the 2011-12 season, 1,547 households received assistance, with payments totaling $563,209. (With few exceptions, all payments go to Cowlitz PUD and other heating vendors.)

“We need to find a sign up process that is fair and equitable, and that is customer-friendly, while knowing that we won’t be able to help all who are eligible,” Kerby added.

Toward this purpose, CAP’s board of directors has created a special work group made up of staff and community members to evaluate the existing process, explore alternative methods, and develop recommendations for an improved process this November.

CAP Board member and advocate Angela Fowler will co-chair the work group.

“A key part of this process is to seek ideas from the community, especially those community members who use the energy assistance program,” said Fowler, who has received energy assistance herself.

Fowler says there are several ways the community can suggest improvements in the sign-up process:

  • Join the workgroup. Apply by picking up an application at CAP or filling out the application on CAP’s webpage, www.lowercolumbiacap.org. Five people will be invited to serve on the workgroup.
  • CAP Comment Line. Call and leave a message with ideas anytime at 360-425-3430 ext. 207.
  • Energy Sign Up Survey. Complete a short, three-question survey on the CAP website:www.lowercolumbiacap.org. Print copies of the survey are available at CAP, 1526 Commerce Ave., Longview. (People can also request a survey by calling the comment line.)
  • Put your ideas into a letter mailed to “CAP Energy Sign Up,” 1526 Commerce Ave., Longview, WA 98632
  • Participate in a March 20 community forum at the Cowlitz PUD Auditorium. The community is invited to share ideas for improving the sign-up process. Sessions will be held at 4-5 p.m. and 6-7 p.m.
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