By Johnny Jackson
Georgia residents, who find it increasingly difficult to pay heating and energy bills this winter, may be able to take advantage of a boost in assistance.
The U.S. Congress and President George W. Bush recently announced an increase of nearly $2 billion (36 percent more) in funding to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a federal initiative started in 1982 to help needy individuals and families with heating and energy costs.
This winter, $5.1 billion in assistance funding could be distributed nationally. Several Georgia assistance programs will be able to take advantage of the hike in funding. The state is set to get $80.4 million for its various assistance programs.
"We expect that with the economy the way it is, more people will be applying for heating assistance funding," said Tami Gerke, spokeswoman for Atlanta Gas Light (AGL) Resources.
Already this year, AGL Resources and AGL Resources Private Foundation have donated $300,000 to Georgia energy assistance programs. The money is currently being used to assist residents in paying their monthly heating bills.
Various other assistance programs exist statewide, and are based on income and need. Metro Atlanta residents should contact their county LIHEAP office by calling 2-1-1, where they can request a referral to available energy assistance programs.
The Home and Heartwarming Program is an energy assistance program that provides weatherization services and natural gas equipment repair, or replacement, for qualified seniors, and low-income households in the Atlanta Gas Light system.
The Atlanta Gas Light Senior Citizens Discount is also available for customers 65 years of age, or older, with an annual household income of $14,355, or less.
The Heating Energy Assistance Team program (H.E.A.T.) offers low-income households assistance with energy needs. H.E.A.T. funds are distributed by the Georgia Department of Human Resources, through local community action agencies. For more information, residents can call H.E.A.T. at (678) 406-0212, or they can call Project Share at 1-800-257-4273.
Georgia Power participates in Project Share, a charity initiative coordinated through the Georgia Salvation Army to provide emergency financial assistance.
With Project Share, Georgia Power customers may opt to donate a certain amount of money to charity that is matched, dollar-for-dollar, by the power company. The proceeds from Project Share stay within the county from which they are collected.
"It's a quick and convenient way for them [power company clients] to be able to help other members in their community who need that help," said Carol Boatright, Georgia Power spokeswoman.
Georgia Power, though it gets no federal funding to participate in low-income energy assistance programs, does work with the State Public Service Commission, which directs the company on how much money it can spend on such programs. Its programs include two non-profits -the statewide Georgia Environmental Facilities Association (GEFA) and the metro Atlanta-based Resource Services Ministries.
Boatright said that Georgia Power customers may be able to take advantage of in-house assistance as well. "We always [tell] customers that if they are having any problems with paying their bills to, please, call us," she said. "If they call us, we can also help put them in touch with these and other agencies and work out payment arrangements with them."
Residents in need are encouraged to contact their local LIHEAP office, where they can find applications for assistance this winter. The LIHEAP application process begins on Dec. 1 and will continue through April 30, unless there is an extension.
Officials are urging residents to apply immediately, on or after Dec. 1, as the application process can take six to eight weeks. Those applying must be a citizen or legally admitted alien in the U.S., and must show identification that proves their citizenship status. They must also show proof of income.
"Low- and fixed-income residents need to apply now," said Wendell Dallas, vice president at Atlanta Gas Light. "Getting the proper paperwork completed early can expedite the process of getting the funds before the temperatures begin to plummet."
Those who qualify must meet the following "poverty level" guidelines: one-person household making $15,600 or less; a two-person household making $21,000 or less; a three-person household making $26,400 or less; a four-person household making $31,800 or less; a five-person household making $37,200 or less; a six-person household making $42,600 or less; and a seven-person household making $48,000 or less.
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