SPOKANE, Wash - –SNAP helped 15,000 Spokane County households pay for their heat last year, but unfortunately, the demand for services is always greater than they can meet.
That's why, when a KHQ viewer contacted us, concerned people may be scamming the system, we checked into it. The concern was that people who live in Section 8/HUD housing and have their heating paid for by their landlord were still getting heating credit checks from SNAP – money they could then spend however they wanted. So KHQ asked SNAP if this practice is, in fact, a scam. "No, actually," said Energy Operations Coordinator Carol Weltz. "There are federal guidelines we have to follow, and no matter who gets the energy grant, we have to follow these guidelines." Weltz explains it this way: if a family meets the income guidelines of 125% of the federal poverty level, then they qualify for heating credits whether they pay their heating bill directly, or it's included in a higher rent. "Either way, you're paying for your heat," she added. In instances where a tenant pays the bill directly, the energy credit is often paid back to Avista directly. But when it's covered within their rent, the money goes directly to the tenant. "Either way, when the money goes out, it relieves the energy burden for the family," Weltz told KHQ. "When it does that, what happens is that in that household they have money for other things, like boots for the kids, food, clothes, things that the household needs." But every year, people seeking heating assistance from SNAP are turned away because there aren't enough resources to go around, while some people who's heating bill is paid get the credit. The KHQ viewer who contacted us about the issue feels the practice isn't fair. "We need to make sure we have the funds available to those who need it," the viewer said, who asked to remain anonymous. "When they run out, then they have to turn people away, and those people may be the ones who really need it." The money for SNAP's heating assistance comes from a small tariff we all pay to Avista, but the majority of it is federal dollars, and changing how it can be used isn't easy. "We really don't have the ability to change those rules, the money comes down, it comes with rules and regulations, and we have to stay within them," Weltz said. The energy assistance program is just one part of what SNAP does in the community. They recently opened new appointments for energy assistance, and they filled quickly. The next round of openings is expected in January.