Madison County ad hoc energy group to weigh heating program

Goldstein said he does not believe that this was the appropriate group to examine a county-funded program, especially as the ad hoc energy committee has no authority beyond possibly making a recommendation for action by the county.

"Why wouldn't we put this in place?" Goldstein asked. "It went through Social and Mental Health Services, and it's going to directly benefit the neediest people in the county. People aren't going to make it this year at last year's rates. The program can't be frauded; it's a pretty reliable fund."

Fitzgerald said the fund would help people in dire need who had exhausted all other available benefits. Those individuals could receive a one-time grant from the local energy assistance program.

More than 5,000 families in Madison County received HEAP benefits last year.

"DSS has a responsibility to help people," Fitzgerald said. "We can't turn our backs on folks who are in desperate need."

He said even if the fund is not created, his department will continue to serve those who need it. The difference is efficiency.

According to Fitzgerald, if the fund is not created, an adult protective worker (in cases where there are no children living in the home) or child protective worker (in homes where children reside) will have to make a home visit, interview the applicants and create a plan on how to the heat the home for the season.

"Then they will have to come back, open a [child or adult protective] case and make the payment," Fitzgerald said. "But we'll do anything we have to do to help these people. We've always done that, and we always will do that."

Fitzgerald worries that the increased needs of residents this year will place increased demands on staff who have other responsibilities to carry out.

"I just don't think you need a case worker to go into someone's home to make a plan on how to heat it," Fitzgerald said.

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