Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tri-State Defender Editorial on Utility Assistance

The following is an editorial by Sen. Reginald Tate that discusses various types of utility assistance. It recently ran in the Tri-State Defender...

Help with heating bills relies on generosity

This week, Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division offers its annual month-long reprieve from cutting off utilities for customers who don’t pay their bills. The delay is designed to provide relief for low-income families during the holidays, which have proven exceptionally cold this year.

But while the program has its benefits, the underlying problem facing Memphis residents when it comes to covering the bills can’t be solved by simply putting off a payment. According to media reports, MLGW sends out more than 1 million notices and conducts 100,000 utility cutoffs a year - including multiple cutoffs at the same property. For a family struggling to make ends meet, if the utilities are cut off, they may not come back on for a long time.

There is longer-term assistance available to residents who need help. Through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, homeowners and utilities customers who live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line are eligible for assistance with heating and cooling bills. Households with elderly or disabled family members and/or children under six have top priority for this funding, and eligibility for the program was expanded this year.

Under LIHEAP, funds go directly to the utility provider - meaning there’s no need to worry about how to get the right check to the right people. To find out if you’re eligible for LIHEAP, you can call the Shelby County Community Services Agency at 545-4630, or the Hickory Ridge Mall location at 545-3220.

Other charitable organizations, including the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association, also provide families with energy assistance. MIFA runs the Plus-1 program, which asks MLGW customers to add a dollar to their monthly utility bill to donate to its energy assistance fund. To be considered for assistance, applicants must document a temporary unavoid­able loss of income, including job layoff, illness, a reduction in pay or house fire. Preference will be given to those who have experienced such a crisis in the last three months. To find out if you can receive assistance, call 527-0208.

Finally, those who have been fortunate this year cannot simply count on others to give to these funds. The Salvation Army’s Utilities Assistance program has been unable to help anyone for three months, for instance, and LIHEAP and MIFA funds are also limited. To find out how you can help others with their energy bills, visit www.plus1memphis.org or call the Salvation Army at 543-8586. I humbly ask that you join in and help provide a warm home for our neighbors this season. It’s a gift worth giving.

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