The federal government shutdown is holding up some LIHEAP applications, much to those homeowners’ frustration.

New this year in Maine: a requirement that people applying to the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program show their Social Security cards. Those who have lost theirs cards and need new ones haven’t been able to request them because the Social Security Administration has been shuttered since Oct. 1.

“Many, many applications” have been held up, said Jane Verrill, who was answering customer service calls at the Community Concepts office in Lewiston on Wednesday. “There’s nothing we can do until they go back to work.”

Maine State Housing Authority spokeswoman Deborah Turcotte said community action agencies have been processing LIHEAP applications since mid-August. When they’ve run into missing paperwork, such as a Social Security card, they’ve given the applicant two weeks to apply for a new card and bring it in or bring in a letter from the SSA that indicates they’ve sought a new card.

Now, she said, that two-week period won’t start until the government reopens.

“We had one person who needed to get a letter from the (Department of Veterans Affairs) to show his correct benefits,” Turcotte said. During the shutdown, that wasn’t happening either.

She said the federal government requires that agencies verify Social Security numbers, birth dates and other information, which they had been doing. Applicants are now being asked to show their actual cards to cut down on misusing others’ information, Turcotte said.

Last year, LIHEAP helped 55,000 Maine households with heating costs. The minimum benefit was $144; the maximum was $1,656 and the average, $556, Turcotte said.

MaineHousing typically receives money for the program in November and disburses it to fuel dealers in mid-November. No one having to wait has missed out on help.

“Some people are in the frame of mind, ‘I want to get this done now,'” Turcotte said.

Two years ago, the state received $38.5 million for LIHEAP. Last year, it was allotted the same amount, but with some money held for sequestration, Maine received $34.9 million.

Funding hasn’t yet been allocated for the upcoming heating season.

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