Program to Help Low-Income North Dakotans with Heating Costs is Now Accepting Applications

Winters in North Dakota have a dramatic effect on home heating costs. The ND Department of Human Services is reminding low-income individuals and families that help is available through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Applications are now being accepted at county social services in North Dakota.

This program is federally funded and helps qualifying households in need of assistance pay a portion of  their home heating costs. This includes natural gas, electricity, propane, coal, fuel oil, wood, or kerosene. The program also covers the repairs of furnaces and weatherization services.

There are income and asset limits to qualify for the program. This ensures that the program helps those most in need. To qualify, a household can earn up to 60 percent of the state median income, which for a family of three, is about $43,430 per year before taxes.

Applications will be accepted at local county social services offices from October 1, 2014 through May 31, 2015. An application is available online at www.nd.gov/eforms/Doc/sfn00529.pdf . The application as well as documentation to verify assets and income levels should be completed and returned to the social services office.

Last year, this program helped just over 13,000 households and paid an average of $1,320 in heating energy costs for each household. The program pays fuel vendors directly on behalf of the qualifying households. About two-thirds of the participating households include people who are elderly, have disabilities, or include children age five and younger.

The ND Department of Human Services contracts with the ND Department of Commerce for weatherization services to help lower heating costs. The weatherization services include home insulation, furnace repair, and other energy-saving improvements to help lower heating costs. The direct work is often carried about by community action agencies.

For more information, visit www.nd.gov/dhs/services/financialhelp/energyassist.html

 

Information thanks to LuWanna Lawrence and Heather Steffl from ND Department of Human Services.

Text-to-911 will be coming to North Dakota

Texting has changed the way people communicate and it has really changed the game for about 55.5 million Americans who have hearing loss, deafness, or speech disabilities. Seven out of ten Americans prefer texting to voice calls. This is where text-to-911 comes into play.

 

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has made a ruling that will make the ability to text 911 available across the nation. Text-to-911 is the ability to send a text message to reach 911 emergency call takers from your mobile phone or device.  The FCC, texting providers, and 911 call centers are all working together to make this happen.

 

The ability to text 911 is crucial for many emergency situations. Here are a few examples of when texting 911 can be used: the wireless carrier signal isn’t strong enough for a call, a medical crisis took away the person’s ability to speak, and texting in a situation where the person needs to hide and be quiet.

 

Text-to-911 will not be replacing the current voice services so if you prefer to call, a call can still be made. The ability to text 911 is only there to complement current services offered by 911 call centers. If a voice call to 911 is possible, that should still be the first choice. Text-to-911 should be reserved for specific situations.

 

An announcement later this year will give the date of availability for text-to-911 in North Dakota.

For more information, visit the FCC website.

Housing Forum Brings People from Across State to Discuss Housing Issues in North Dakota

084On September 10, 2014, the Dakota Center for Independent Living held a housing forum to discuss housing issues in the western part of North Dakota. about 75 people came together from Bismarck, Williston, Minot, Dickinson, and other cities in the western part of the state. The high rent prices stemming from the oil fields is making it hard for people to find affordable housing. Affordable housing is defined as housing that costs 30% or less of your gross income. In Williston, the price for an apartment ranges from $1,000 per bedroom to $2,000 per bedroom.

A presentation from the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency started off the event. This presentation discussed what affordable housing is, how affordable housing can exist, and also discussed many of the issues in the western part of the state regarding housing. One of the major issues mentioned is that the amount of housing being built cannot keep up with the need for housing. The North Dakota Housing Finance Agency discussed various subsidies and tax cuts that can be used to help build affordable housing as well as the challenges surrounding funding.

098After the presentation, people from the audience were invited to share their personal stories of housing challenges or housing success. A single dad and resident of Williston who works in the oil fields brought not only his story, but the stories of those who could not attend.  He discussed how his trailer court is raising the lot rent by 233%. He said he is lucky enough to afford it, but he sees the challenges of others around him. Many of the trailer courts in Williston are now requiring people to use only a specific brand of trailer in the court.  This means that people who sell their trailer end up having to remove it from the park and replacing it with one of the allowed trailers. To read more about his story, click here.

113A man who works for legal services in Minot brought his story about how the law is causing more housing issues in North Dakota. He discussed how their is no way to get out of paying rent and many people are being pushed out of their homes due to the high rent prices. He has done some statistical work and found in Minot, evictions have gone from 67 evictions a year to over 197 evictions a year. He discussed how Minot is the next battle, because it won’t be too long before people can’t afford living in Williston at all. For many in Williston, people who own their home are unable to stay there because of the increased cost of living. To hear more of this story, click here.

Soon, the panel was seated. The panel included the following people:

National: US Senator John Hoeven’s office represented by: Kristen Hamman, Regional Director
US Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s office represented by: Renae Aarfor, Southeast Area Director
US Congressman Kevin Cramer’s office represented by: Daryl Lies, Staff Representative
State: North Dakota State Senator Rich Wardner, Senate Majority Leader – Dickinson, District 37
Local: Honorable Dennis Johnson, Mayor of Dickinson, N.D.

124The panel each shared their view on the housing issues in North Dakota before the panel was opened to questions from the audience. Some of the questions asked include homelessness, lack of affordable housing, lack of accessible-affordable housing, lack of housing for rehabilitated criminal offenders, lack of homeless shelters, section 8 vouchers, and many more.

FCC Public Notice: Emergency Information Must Be Accessible to All

The FCC has issued a public notice to remind video programming distributors of their obligation to make information accessible to people with hearing or visual impairments in accordance with section 79.2 of the Commission’s rules. What does this all mean? Emergency information, including critical details regarding the emergency and how to respond to an emergency, needs to be accessible by everyone.

There are no exemptions to section 79.2. While the FCC recognizes that emergency information is typically not available in advance and that it may be difficult for some stations to obtain closed captioning services, they want to make sure it is provided.

It is important for emergency related information to be available and accessible to everyone. If you or someone you know has encountered emergency information that was not accessible to everyone and would like to file a complaint, contact the FCC.

http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/form2000c.html

Federal Communications Commission

Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau

445 12th Street SW

Washington, DC 20554

Phone: 1-888-255-5322

Videophone: 1-844-432-2275

TTY: 1-888-835-5322

Fax: 866-418-0232

Why People get Denied for Disability Social Security Benefits

Often, people think of retirement when they think of Social Security. However, for those who have a disability that prevents them from working long-term, Social Security disability benefits can be the only dependable income source to help them deal with financial challenges of living without earned income.

Over the last 15 years, the need for disability benefits has grown. However, approval rates for disability benefits have plummeted according to recent figures from the Social Security Administration.  Now, almost two-thirds of all applications for Social Security disability get denied.

Since 1999, the number of application has more than doubled. In 2009 and 2010, applications hit new peaks and the claim volume has only moderately leveled out. The Social Security Administration accepted more than half of all applications for disability in 1999, but the rate of approval dropped to 33.5 percent last year.

Why has the approval rate dropped? Well, there is a misunderstanding of when Social Security disability benefits come into play. In order to be eligible, a person has to have a disability that lasts longer than a year and leaves a person unable to do the work the person did before or to adjust to other types of work. The Social Security Administration looks at a person’s ability to earn money from other employment as well as the severity of the disability and any specific medical conditions that caused it. The Social Security Administration also makes judgment calls about whether different, but related jobs could be options for you.

Even if an applicant’s situation does qualify them for Social Security disability benefits, the Social Security Administration often rejects disability claims because of simple technical errors. This sometimes means they omitted required information or provided insufficient explanations. By collecting as much medical documentation as possible as well as work records can be helpful.

When applying for benefits, it doesn’t hurt to enlist the help of an expert who understands the process. This can increase  a person’s chances of getting approved.

46471_144659075574929_7910757_nIf you have a disability and need help applying for Social Security Benefits, contact the Dakota Center for Independent Living

Phone: 701-222-3636

3111 E. Broadway Ave

Bismarck, ND 58501

Housing Issues in North Dakota Spark Changes to the Roots Housing Program

Affordable housing is a major issue in North Dakota. The North Dakota Industrial Commission has approved changes to the North Dakota Roots Program (Roots) to help more state residents become homeowners. The program is administered by the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency (NDHFA).

The rules for eligibility have been altered so that any North Dakota household earning up to 140 percent of the area median income to access NDHFA’s affordable interest rate loans, and down payment and closing cost assistance.

By removing the restrictions on the Roots program, more individuals and families qualify for home purchase assistance from the North Dakota Housing Financing Agency. It is said the new Roots program will be popular with moderate income households that need down payment assistance to move from renting to home ownership.

The maximum income limits for the Roots program are $97,440 to $110,600 depending on where the financed home is located. The Roots loan amount must comply with the current Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac conforming loan amounts or the limits of the applicable loan insurer/guarantor.

Housing Forum Invite

You’re invited to the housing forum!

If you are affected by a housing issue and live in North Dakota, we’d love to hear from you. The Dakota Center for Independent Living is holding a Housing Forum on September 10th from 1-5 pm. If you’d like to attend, please RSVP by calling Royce at 222-3636.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information on the Roots Program, contact the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency:

2624 Vermont Avenue
PO Box 1535
Bismarck, ND 58502
701-328-8080 or  800-292-8621

Movie Theaters Will Soon Be Required to Provide Closed Captioning & Audio Descriptions on All Movies

On July 23, the Attorney General signed the Department’s Notice of Proposed Rule-making (NPRM). This proposal will be an amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act title III regulation to provide closed movie captioning and audio description to give people with hearing and vision impairments access to movies.

What is closed captioning and audio description? Well, closed movie captioning provides text to describe the movie to someone with a hearing impairment. Audio description provides spoken narration of key visual elements of the movie to someone with a vision impairment using a wireless headset. Audio descriptions include narration of actions, settings, expressions, costumes, and scene changes.

The Department is working to provide a nationwide standard for movie theaters to exhibit movies with closed movie captioning and audio description for all showings of movies that are available with closed movie captioning or audio description. This rule would not require an independent obligation on movie theaters to add captions or audio description to movies that are not already available with those features.

ADA title III requires movie theaters and other public accommodations to provide effective communication through the use of auxiliary aids and services. This rule-making would specify requirements movie theaters will need to meet in order to satisfy their effective communication obligation.

Do you have an opinion on the NPRM? If so, visit regulations.gov. They will have a comment period open until September 30, 2014 and want to hear from you.

Want to share your comments with us? Comment below! We’d love to know what you think!