LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

BOISE -- An increased amount of people in Idaho have asked for help paying for heat this year. Qualifying families have gotten an average of $190 to pay utilities.

We get a lot of people that are on fixed incomes that can't afford their utility bills. It's, do I buy my medication? Do I buy food? Do I pay my utility? Is essentially where a lot of people are at unfortunately, Christina Zamora, Energy Programs Coordinator of the Community Action Partnership Association of Idaho, said.

The federal government has set aside $1.6 billion to go towards energy assistance. Of that money, Idaho gets $8 million.

It's really hard to decide, do you want to help more people or do you want to pay significant benefits? That was really tough, Zamora said. With the economy really not improving, we knew no matter what the funding levels, we would have more requests for the program.

Zamora says they chose to offer help to more people this year (60,000 households), but to do that, they cut the amount of money they could offer each family.

Our benefit amounts went down because in order to serve more people, we had to reduce the benefits, Zamora said.

Until this week, the association had to guess how much money the state might get to divvy up and how much they could give out to each family. On Wednesday, they found out.

Congress has given Idaho an additional $8 million, upping the original aid number by more than 50%. So with many people struggling, Zamora says each qualifying household will get a bigger check to go toward their utility bills than originally expected.

Zamora says if you've already received money from the Low Income Energy Assistance Program , or LIHEAP, this year -- you'll automatically get an additional payment in early March.

If you need help and haven't applied, you can still apply to get energy assistance by contacting your local Community Action agency or click here for more information. The deadline is March 31.

This program is open to low-income families, based on income and the number of people living in a house. For example, for a family of four to qualify, the maximum monthly income is $3,028.

People could apply for LIHEAP money starting on November 1. Already, they've helped 22,673 households. That's around one thousand more than last year.

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: http://www.ktvb.com/story/news/local/2014/06/27/11574847/