Lower Columbia Community Action Program hopes long lines will be a problem of a past when it introduces online appointment scheduling for energy assistance, beginning at 5 p.m. Nov. 18.
For years, 800 to 900 people have lined up outside the CAP building on energy sign-up day to get an appointment for help with winter heating bills through the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Because the program is first-come, first-served, some people would camp out overnight to be there when the CAP doors opened at 8 a.m.
This year, in an attempt to be more “customer-friendly,” CAP will be using an online appointment scheduler on the CAP website at www.lowercolumbiacap.org, said CAP Executive Director Ilona Kerby.
“We were becoming increasingly concerned about people putting themselves at risk in the wet and cold weather,” Kerby said. “We wanted to see if there was a more customer-friendly way to conduct the energy sign-up process.”
The appointment scheduler is available in multiple languages (using Google Translate), and can be accessed from any computer, Smartphone, iPad or other tablet device with Internet connection.
The easy four-step process will take most people less than 5 minutes to complete, Kerby said.
For people who do not own a computer, there are computers with Internet access available at public libraries and at CAP, 1526 Commerce Ave.
People who do not know how to operate a computer are encouraged to have family, friends, neighbors or fellow church members help them. On Nov. 19, staff and volunteers will be available at the CAP computers to assist.
As in past years, no appointments can be made over the phone.
“People might need to make arrangements to have someone help them sign up, but we think that is still easier and safer than having them stand out in the cold and rain for hours,” Kerby said.
The need for energy assistance far exceeds the resources and not all people can receive help. Based on state census figures, CAP estimates that the federal funds it receives can serve only about 35 percent of the households that qualify for energy assistance. 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.
For more information, call CAP at 360-425-3430, ext. 231, and leave a message with your telephone number.
Sign-up takes four steps
What: CAP Online Energy Sign-Up
When: Will be activated at 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 18
How: Go to the CAP website atwww.lowercolumbiacap.org, using any computer, Smartphone, iPad or other tablet devices, and click on the “Energy Sign Up” button.
Step 1: Choose your county: Cowlitz or Wahkiakum
Step 2: Provide basic identification information (name, address, birthdate, last four digits of Social Security number)
Step 3: Choose a date to attend the required Energy Conservation Class (People are required to attend the class before they can have an appointment for energy assistance.)
Step 4: Choose a date for your energy assistance appointment.
Who: To be eligible, the monthly household net income must be at or below the 125 percent of federal poverty guidelines — one person, $1,197; two people $1,616; three people, $2,084; four people, $2,453; additional income allowed for larger households.