TAHLEQUAH -- More than 2,000 low-income elderly and disabled Native Americans took advantage of the Cherokee Nation's energy assistance program in 2020.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, aka LIHEAP, has been in effect for more than 30 years.

"LIHEAP is a program that helps with heating and cooling assistance," CN Family Assistance Manager Janet Ward said. "It opens in October for the elderly and disabled, age 60 and above and those under 60 who receive a disability check. This program helps with a one-time heating assistance, and if funding is available, we assist with summer cooling. LIHEAP is made available to those under age 60 in December."

The program is funded by the Oklahoma Department of Health & Human Services and administered by the CN Family Assistance Department. In 2020, it helped 2,106 participants. Assistance is provided to eligible households for their primary source of heating, including wood, wood pellets, natural gas, propane, electric (total electric homes), kerosene and coal. According to the CN, benefits are calculated based on the amount of income, energy source and family size "to assure the highest level of payment." The benefit payment goes directly to the energy supplier or vendor.

"This program does have income and jurisdictional guidelines," Ward said. "LIHEAP can help participants with staying warm during the winter and help with their heating or cooling during a crisis. If someone wants to apply for LIHEAP, they can go in to the nearest office and make an application. If they are unable to come in to the office, an application can be taken over the phone."

For information, call 918-453-5422 or visit the Human Services page on the CN's website, cherokee.org.

"Applications are reviewed on a daily basis and payments for the elderly and disabled will go out starting the end of January," Ward said. "All other LIHEAP payments are processed in February."

According to Human Services, LIHEAP includes crisis help for families that have experienced "hardship and are in jeopardy of getting their utilities turned off or have already had a cut-off."

"This is a one-time assistance payment, paid directly to the vendor," the HS webpage states. "This program usually starts in from January and runs till the middle of February. The payment standard is based on need and cannot exceed $250."

The required documents to apply for LIHEAP include a tribal citizenship card from a federally recognized tribe, Social Security card, verification of household income (includes all household members and income such as social security, disability, working income and child support) and utility bill of main heating source to verify vendor.

Participants must live in the CN jurisdiction and bring a document to verify their 911 addresses.