LAKE COUNTY — Heating bills can place a strain on people's incomes during the winter months. FiveCAP offers to help low-income residents tackle heating costs for both deliverable fuel and metered utilities, as well as help weatherize homes.

"This is a very challenging time of the year for low-income families in northern Michigan," said FiveCAP Executive Director Mary Trucks. "When your income is barely covering your expenses, adding the high cost of heating to the mix is an incredible burden. We have funds available to help people stay warm through the winter."

She said lack of resources and extrememly cold weather can be a dangerous combination. The community support workers at FiveCAP are passionate about helping people access the help they need to heat their homes.

"We've all heard the tragic news stories of people freezing to death in their homes, or losing everything in tragic house fires because they were using unsafe methods to try and stay warm," Trucks said. "By simply providing people with heat assistance, we can help them avoid these dangerous situations."

To qualify for assistance with heating, household income must be at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $1,471 for 30 days for one person and increases $520 per month for each additional person in the home.

People whose income is slightly higher than this can still check into getting assistance, said Trucks, as there may be allowances for extenuating circumstances.

Applicants over the age of 18 need to provide proof of income for the past 30 days as well as birthdates and Social Security numbers for everyone in the home. Applicants also must provide a current photo ID and copy of their Social Security card. Proof of other assets may be required, so Trucks advises applicants to contact FiveCAP to make sure they have all the necessary information before applying.

Funding is provided by the Michigan Community Action-Michigan Energy Assistance Program (MCA-MEAP) and the Low-income Crisis Assistance Low-income Heating Energy Assistance Progran (LCA-LIHEAP).

FiveCAP also offers weatherization assistance for low-income families, which makes homes more energy sufficient and saves residents an average of 25 percent on utility costs, according to Trucks.

"An energy auditor does a whole house assessment to determine the efficiency of the furnace, the water heater and the refrigerator, assess the levels of insulation throughout the home and address any infiltration/exfiltration issues," FiveCAP Housing Director Austin Garcia explained.

The services available through the program are determined based on what will provide the maximum amount of energy savings to the homeowner. These services vary from home to home and can include air sealing, such as placing weather strips on doors, caulking, trim installation, patching holes in walls and replacing windows and doors. Homes may even be eligible for new appliances such as water heaters, refrigerators and furnaces.

Household income for the weatherization program must be at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty level. To apply, ownership or landlord documents must be provided for the property in addition to proof of current property taxes, income documents for the past three months, the most recent electric and heating bills with account numbers as well as the name, birth date, and Social Security numbers for all residents of the household.

Weatherization is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. FiveCAP provides this service year-round to eligible residents of Lake, Newaygo, Mason and Manistee counties.

To apply for these programs, contact Lake County FiveCAP, located at 2476 W. 44th St., Baldwin. For more information of the program, call (231) 745-4617.