- As the mercury continues a downward trend in the Northwoods, many of you might turn to the thermostat for comfort.
But if you have trouble footing the bill in this tough economy, energy assistance may be an option.
Home Energy Plus provides a benefit to eligible households throughout the October 1st to May 15th heating season.
The social services department in Oneida County handles applications and disbursement of benefits for heating assistance.
Amy Mayo is the Support Program Supervisor, "If somebody is financially eligible, they will receive the benefit. I know people are anxious to apply right away when the program starts in October, but it is not a first come, first served. If you're eligible, you will receive that benefit. We process the applications within 30 days."
It doesn't matter how you heat your home, as long as you're eligible the Home Energy Plus program helps cover some of the costs says Mayo, "So if you have just electric heat or propane heat, it would be based on what your heating source is. We also look at what your heating bills are and your usage. There's only so much we can pay towards your usage, but that factors into the benefit as well."
For a 1-person household you should earn less than $24,282 annually to be considered for this benefit.
Applications are available by contacting your county social services departments and you will also need to provide proof of income.
WHITEWATER - Wisconsin has made the Peace Corps' Top 10 list for number of volunteers per capita.
Peace Corps volunteers spend two years working in a developing country. Tasks might include teaching English, digging wells and tending gardens.
According to rankings released Wednesday, for every 100,000 Wisconsin residents, 3.7 join the Peace Corps. That's ninth best in the nation, just behind Minnesota (3.8). Vermont is No. 1 at 7.8 volunteers per 100,000 residents.
Many of Wisconsin's volunteers come from the Whitewater area, which was ranked No. 10 in metro areas per capita.
President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961 to foster a better understanding between Americans and people of other countries. More than 215,000 Americans have served in 139 countries worldwide.
MADISON - Gov. Scott Walker's administration plans to schedule round table discussions around Wisconsin for people to discuss the state's tax code and propose changes.
Walker says he wants to lower the overall tax burden every year he is in office. The round tables are to discuss the state's tax structure, not any specific proposal.
Walker and the Republican Legislature this year passed a $650 million income tax cut and a $100 million property tax reduction.
Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and Revenue Department Secretary Rick Chandler hosted the first tax reform round table discussion on Monday at Beloit College. Walker says more will be announced in coming weeks.
RHINELANDER - Most people can now successfully get through the online healthcare website. The Obama administration announced today about 365,000 people have successfully signed up.
That's well behind what the administration had hoped for at this point. Some people are still having trouble because the website isn't completely fixed. But the federal marketplace is paying some people to help.
Aylee Herr is a certified application counselor. He helps people navigate the healthcare.gov website. Today he was helping people sign up in Rhinelander.
In two months three workers in his office have only signed up 30 people in Northcentral Wisconsin.
"The number is actually going up and we are enrolling more people not just them but through our educational processes people are able to do this on their own, that's actually helping these numbers go up and the website is actually working a lot better now," says Aylee Herr, a Certified Application Counselor.
The website was designed to be at a sixth grade level. Before logging onto the site, it’s important to understand your family arrangement and household income.
“Once you get that number worked out the second step we want you to do is figure out what hospitals and doctors you prefer," says Herr. "Once you have those two in a way figured out its very easy for you to navigate the website."
The Obama administration and counselors like Herr will continue their enrollment push through the New Year. People enrolling by December 23rd can get coverage by the first of the year.
ACROSS WISCONSIN - More people enrolled into Obamacare during the month of November compared to October, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Statewide, 4,426 people enrolled into the federal health program in November.
Glitches and technical issues on healthcare.gov made coverage signup difficult in its early weeks.
Fewer than 900 people in Wisconsin signed up for insurance on the federal exchange in October.
The Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance says the November numbers are an improvement. But J.P. Wieske, Office of the Commissioner of Insurance public information officer, says they're still shy of expectations.
"The numbers aren't nearly enough from our standpoint, and hopefully that will improve," Wieske said.
But Wieske believes that not completely because people aren’t buying insurance.
"A lot of people took advantage of the early renewal process, either small businesses or individuals." Wieske said. "So in a lot of cases while they have the ability to certainly shop on the exchange, they've already locked in a plan for next year."
Estimates say more than 550,000 Wisconsinites were uninsured before the federal law took effect. The state hopes about half of them will get insurance through the federal exchange.
Wieske says they’ll use regional enrollment networks instead of general advertising to get the word out.
"And have people available to staff those, talk to people and to get them where they need to go." Wieske said. "This stuff, while we have simplified it as best we can, it's certainly complicated."
Website improvements have helped more people access information on rates and access to purchase coverage. Even though more people are getting through the site Wieske encourages buyers to double check their coverage.
"I can't emphasize enough that you think you have coverage, you've signed up through the exchange and you haven't received any confirmation, it's worth your time just to call the insurer that you signed up with to make sure they have your information correct," Wieske said.
According to Department of Health and Human Services statistics, 47,173 applications have been submitted. Those applications cover 85,863 Wisconsinites.
Between October and November, 5,303 Wisconsinites have successfully selected and enrolled into a marketplace plan.
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