Pride prevents people from getting help for heating bills

One of my least favorite tasks each years is organizing the paperwork so that my 97-year-old mother can get some help paying her heating bills through LIHEAP, the federal program. Around September, it can become a fulltime job.

This year, she got about $1,200 worth of help, and burned through it by mid-January. Old people like warm houses.

For anyone who’s been through the process, it’s not hard to imagine why more people don’t apply. The paperwork is insane. And if you’ve never done it before, giving up seems like a reasonable alternative. And that’s if you even know the program exists.

But that’s not the reason — at least the stated reason — why people in these parts aren’t using the program. Pride is.

Only 22 percent of eligible households in North Dakota, and just 32 percent of eligible households in Minnesota, take advantage of the program, the Fargo Forum reports Monday.

“There are not too many people who want to go in and say, ‘Hey, I need help.’ We’re a proud people,” said Brandon Kjelden, energy and rehab program coordinator for the Southeastern North Dakota Community Action Agency.

Marvel Von Hagen, of Kindred, N.D., was keeping the house at 55 degrees and still almost lost her home after selling possessions to make ends meet.

“When you have to make a decision between eating or paying the electric bill … I don’t know how to explain it,” she tells the paper. “It’s really hard to say, ‘OK, I need help,’ but it was getting to the point that I was going to lose the house.”

In Minnesota, the threshold for qualifying is 50 percent or less of the state’s median household income. For a household of two, for example, that’s $33,978.

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