Wisconsin encourages residents to seek heating aid
MILWAUKEE — Some low-income residents have been coping with frigid temperatures by heating their homes with stoves and candles, but an accident over the weekend that led to 13 people being sickened by carbon monoxide prompted the state Monday to remind residents it can help pay their heating bills.
Wisconsin is enduring one of its coldest winters in decades, and forecasts call for temperatures to dip again this week — with highs in the single digits and wind chills plunging as low as minus 35 Wednesday in northwestern Wisconsin.
When temperatures get cold, some poorer residents are tempted to save money by taking hazardous short cuts, officials said. For example, fire crews in Madison, Fond du Lac and elsewhere have responded to fires caused by unattended candles, which investigators suspect were being used as a heat source.
And in Trempealeau County on Sunday, one household used a charcoal grill indoors for heat. The grill released carbon monoxide that sickened five children and eight adults, including a responding police officer. The conditions of the 13 weren't immediately released Monday.
State officials say poorer residents shouldn't have to resort to unsafe methods. Wisconsin's Home Energy Assistance Program is designed to provide free assistance to households that are at 60 percent of state median-income guidelines. That works out to an annual income of $47,485 for a family of four.
So far about 165,000 Wisconsin households have received assistance this year, said Stephanie Marquis, spokeswoman for the state Department of Administration. That's about 5,000 more households than at this time last year, and the average benefit of $301 is significantly higher than last year's average payment of $219.
"Heating assistance is based on people's eligibility and heating bills," she said. "It could be that people have higher heating costs because of the colder weather."