DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – With colder weather and energy costs increasing, state and local agencies are working to make sure Ohioans in need can afford to heat their homes this winter.

Each year, around 200,000 Ohioans depend on the Ohio Home Energy Assistance Program, or HEAP, to keep the heat on. Thousands of those who use the program live in the Miami Valley.

Applications for HEAP opened on November 1.

The aid is distributed through the Ohio Department of Development and locally through community action agencies, like the Miami Valley Community Action Partnership.

“The call volume has increased and the applications have greatly increased,” MVCAP energy assistance programs director Monique Walker said.

Qualifying families must be at or below 175% of the federal poverty level.

MVCAP is providing $175 in assistance for heating bills through the program, and they can provide up to $500 for furnace or utility repairs. This year, families can apply for both payments.

“That is great because it helps people out, especially if they are a homeowner and they need that repair,” Walker said.

HEAP also offers Winter Crisis Assistance to prevent utility shut-offs.

“If you’re a family facing disconnection, who do meet the income eligibility, there is another program, we call it the winter crisis program, and it can help stay off that disconnection,” Ohio Department of Development spokesperson Penny Martin said.

This winter, covering heating bills could be even tougher for families.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the price of electricity increased 6.5% in October compared to last year, and utilities for gas went up 28%.

As utility costs rise, these agencies said have the funding ready to help those in need of it.

“We want to make sure that people keep their utilities on in the summer for the cooling purposes, and of course in the winter for the heating purposes, and just continuously, so we’re trying to work really hard to make sure we’re being there for the community as much as possible,” Walker said.

“We just want to keep communicating to people that if you’re facing this challenge, to call us, or to reach out,” Martin said.

Those who live in Montgomery, Greene, Darke or Preble counties can apply for assistance through the Miami Valley Community Action Partnership here.

The application can also be accessed online here or by calling (800) 282-0880.