Despite a winter with periods of bitter cold and heavy snow, the use of a federal program that helps pay utility bills has declined in Missouri.

State officials say applications for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, are down 5 percent statewide from last winter.

The program provides up to $800 in emergencies to avoid utility shutoffs and general energy assistance. The grants are based on household size, household income and the type of fuel used.

The Department of Social Services says 138,260 people have applied for the assistance this year. Last year, 145,605 households applied.

A Columbia nonprofit that uses the program told The Columbia Daily Tribunethe drop off could be attributed to weatherization programs, and to economic recovery.

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