Tribune-Courier General Manager
BENTON – A 50 percent reduction in the amount the federal government has awarded the state for energy assistance has the director in charge of the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in the Purchase area fearing the worst.
Tony Dowdy, Community Service Block Grant Director with West Kentucky Allied Services, said last week, “My greatest fear is that families will freeze to death. I know that’s extreme, but I don’t know what people are going to do when our funds run out and they have used up all their other resources.”
Dowdy’s concerns stem from word that the federal government has slashed funding to states for the elderly, disabled, those on welfare, low income and the unemployed who annually seek assistance to pay heating bills during the winter months.
The Purchase area has a total allocation of $771,000 to assist individuals in the eight counties served which includes Ballard, Calloway, Carlisle, Fulton, Graves, Hickman, McCracken and Marshall.
Dowdy is urging people who qualify to contact West Kentucky Allied Services to apply for those funds that are available. An initial award of subsidy funds will be allocated between the period November 7-December 16. Application dates are assigned by last name. The schedule can be located at www.kaca.org.
Crisis funding will begin in January and Dowdy said this is the fund that is likely to take the biggest hit due to the cuts. He said last year the LIHEAP crisis fund offered a one-time payment of $400 on a metered utility for qualifying families. He said that amount could be cut in half and only until funds run dry, which could be quickly.
New To You, through the sponsorship of the United Methodist Church, also provides assistance with electric and natural gas utilities in Marshall County.
Jerri Cross, Director of New To You, says applications are accepted Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. at 17 Cope Road, just down from Save-A-Lot in Benton. She said assistance is provided throughout the year, but requests spike in winter months. She said each application is reviewed on an individual basis for need.
“We would really like to reach out to our senior citizens in need this year,” said Cross. “Many of them come from an era where you make do on what you have, but that sometimes means they choose between heat and medicine. We are here to help them if they need it.”
The Public Service Commission yesterday predicted little change in average natural gas costs this year compared to last. PSC Chairman David Armstrong said wholesale natural gas prices have seen little change in the past year in Kentucky and customers should be paying about the same for comparable quantities of gas this winter.
But weather, not price, is always the largest factor in determining the amount of energy that consumers use to heat their homes and thus the size of heating bills, Armstrong said.
Armstrong urges consumers, “Do not allow a difficulty in paying a heating bill to become a crisis. Now is the time to take the necessary steps if you think you may need assistance in paying your heating bills this winter.”
He recommended customers consider budget billing options, energy audits and weatherization to reduce inflow of of cold air and leakage of warm air.