Sure, it's been a mild winter so far, but this is still northwest Missouri, which means almost certainly that sometime soon the north wind will howl and the thermometer will drop into single digits.
For hundreds of people in Nodaway County the return of winter presents far greater challenges than just the inconvenience of bundling up or having to jump start a dead battery on a sub-zero morning.
Recent layoffs and a stubbornly uncertain economy mean that many lower-income families will once again face the very real prospect of being unable to heat their homes between now and springtime.
Kim Stockwell, who manages the federally funded Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program administered in Nodaway County through Community Services Inc., said her office received 840 applications requesting assistance with heating costs between Oct. 1 and Dec. 1.
That figure is up slightly from last year.
That there has been only a marginal increase in the number of applications is good news. The downside is that funding for the program has been cut by 50 percent. LIHEAP also sustained a deep appropriations reduction in 2011-2012.
For the moment, funding is available, though Stockwell said her phone will almost certainly start ringing a lot more often as temperatures drop and the first snowflakes begin to fall.
County residents can apply for heating assistance until March 31.
Stockwell said all people need to do is call Community Services at (660) 582-3113 or stop by the office at 1212B S. Main St. in Maryville for an application. There's some paperwork to fill out, and applicants must provide proof of income level.
Stockwell said she frequently walks people through the eligibility guidelines, and that she is glad to assist residents who are unsure if they qualify.
Heating assistance is available to families and individuals whose income does not exceed 135 percent of the federal poverty level. For a household of five, that's $3,039 a month.
Those who qualify receive assistance with home-heating costs in the form of payments made directly to their energy vendor or utility company.
The same family of five, if their home is heated with propane, would receive a subsidy of $263. If the residence is heated with natural gas, which costs less than propane, the payment is $203.
Assistance for qualified residents is provided on a first-come, first-served basis, and as winter progresses, Stockwell said, there is typically a waiting list.
Also, there is no provision for providing eligible households with assistance after funding is exhausted.
"We do run out of money," Stockwell said.