By Nyesha Stone

“Natasha is filling out an application which will then lead into the interviewing process.” (Photo by Nyesha Stone)

Every year, the Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) disperses an additional $1 million to qualified Milwaukee County residents who apply for energy assistance during the month of March.

During March, WE Energies allows customers to set up a payment plan, and then DHHS steps in and provides $300 to the first payment if the person qualifies for the benefits through DHHS’s Energy Assistance program.

“People can get rid of all the stress before the summer,” said Contract Services Coordinator Diane Zettelmeier.

Between Nov. 1 through April 15, is a period called winter moratorium when utility companies aren’t allowed to cut off the heat even if the person hasn’t paid their bill. Some people use this as a time to stop paying their monthly bills, so once the spring hits, and the winter is over, they’re stuck with a bill they can’t afford.

DHHS is here to help to solve this issue by providing not only this offer in March but also by providing similar services throughout the year.

Within that same program, from Oct. 1 to May 15, Milwaukee residents can apply to receive a one-time payment during the heating season towards their heating bill to help make having heat more affordable.

“This program is to help everyone,” said Zettelmeier. “We have higher income limits than most people think. A family of four can earn $51,000 and still qualify.”

If approved for the program, the money will be directly given to the applicant’s energy supplier. It must be noted, DHHS does not pay the entire bill but only a portion depending on the household size and the monthly and annual incomes of the individual or family.

Natasha Driver has successfully used the program twice and is in her third year with the program. She first heard of the program from a pamphlet that was sent with her WE Energies bill, and she knew she had to apply.

“If I didn’t need it I wouldn’t apply,” said Driver. “I tell everybody if you need it, it’s there.”

When Driver first applied for the program, she had three children living at home and it was hard to give her family not only what they needed, but sometimes what they wanted. With the extra cash, she put it towards her family and it into her savings.

But, for Driver it’s not just about the money, it’s about living a decent life.

“If it’s cold outside, I want to come home and be comfortable,” and not have to use multiple blankets to keep warm, said Driver.

Driver keeps her home temperature around 72-76 degrees, but some people would rather freeze than turn their heat up and this is why DHHS is around.

For over 40 years, DHHS has been providing these services. This year, their goal this is to reach 70,000 applications, they’ve currently reached the 40,000 mark.

Appointments can be made online or over the phone, and the application and interview will take no longer than an hour, according to Zettelmeier.

For more details on how to apply and the other benefits, DHH S offers visit energyassistancemke.org or call 414-270-4-MKE.