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HEAT program benefits reduced from $500 to $300

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SALT LAKE CITY — State officials had planned for the worst-case scenario when federal officials warned that funding for a program that helps low-income Utahns pay utility bills could be cut by half.

Officials made the difficult decision to reduce the Home Energy Assistance Target program benefit from $500 to $300 per household.

As it turned out, federal funding was cut by 24 percent, said Susan Kolthoff, state program manager for the state's HEAT program, administered by the Utah Department of Community and Culture. The reduction means eligible participants will receive $300 benefits but the program will be able to serve all 48,000 households that make up its caseload.

"Most of our clients are appreciative of every little bit they get. They're just finding ways to make it stretch. Some have said it's going to difficult," Kolthoff said.

One recipient, Victoria Tso Miera, said she applied for the program when she was out of work and needed help heating her home. "Being a single mom with three kids, you do what you need to stay warm as well," Tso Miera said.

The relatively mild winter weather has helped cut some utility costs and state officials have recommended steps to further cut expenses by turning down thermostats and using energy-saving light bulbs, Kolthoff said.

The HEAT money goes directly into utility company accounts for people who qualify for the program. They can include senior citizens, people with disabilities and families with young children. For more information about the program visit http://housing.utah.gov/seal/heat.html.

Contributing: Carole Mikita

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com