Local group receives money to help residents pay heat bills
by Patrick McCreless
pmccreless@annistonstar.com
Dec 03, 2013 | 3843 views |  0 comments | 78 78 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Marjorie Foster uses a radiant heater to save energy and heat the favorite space of her house, which is beside a picture window where she spends plenty of time reading. She has gone to great lengths to find ways to save energy and make her power bill less. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Marjorie Foster uses a radiant heater to save energy and heat the favorite space of her house, which is beside a picture window where she spends plenty of time reading. She has gone to great lengths to find ways to save energy and make her power bill less. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
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Marjorie Foster's Piedmont mobile home has an electrical central heating unit, but it's rarely on.

Living solely off social security, Foster, 83, cannot afford to warm her house. Instead, she relies mainly on a small space heater. Other electronic devices are also used sparingly, all to keep her electric bill as low as possible.

"I don't even use my electric clock anymore," Foster said. "I figured a long time ago that if it has a cord on it, get rid of it."

With temperatures dropping as winter edges closer, many elderly and fixed-income residents like Foster could find it difficult to stay warm. However, hundreds of such residents could soon be eligible for assistance with their heating bills.

According to a Monday press release, Gov. Robert Bentley awarded approximately $1.8 million in federal money to the nonprofit Community Action Agency of Talladega, Clay, Randolph, Calhoun and Cleburne Counties to fund its heating bill assistance program. The money was part of a $39.3 million federal grant from the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program that Bentley awarded to other community action agencies across the state.

The money, which will be funneled through the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, should be available for use within the next two weeks, said Jim Plott, spokesman for ADECA.

Jesse Cleveland, executive director of the area Community Action Agency, said his organization typically receives around $1.8 million from the state every year to fund its heat bill program. Cleveland said program recipients typically receive around $500, meaning the money could be used to help 3,600 people in the region pay their heating bills. The assistance is awarded to residents based on income and is mainly given to the elderly, the disabled and families with young children.

Cleveland said many people have already contacted his agency for help with heating costs.

"They were in line at our office Monday, but we had to turn them around," Cleveland said. "We are not able to start accepting applications for clients yet ... we have to get notification and sign a contract with ADECA."

Cleveland said his agency will likely start accepting applications for the heating program within two weeks.

Cleveland said that while his organization helps several counties with its heating program, Calhoun residents usually receive the most assistance.

"It all depends on the poverty level of each county, so Calhoun County usually gets the most, then Talladega," Cleveland said.

Some poor residents could receive help in paying their heat costs in the coming months. But they and many more residents could also soon see their gas or electric bills drop, further helping with their heat costs.

The Public Service Commission, the state's utility regulatory board, in November approved a rate restructuring plan for Alagasco that is expected to decrease residential gas bills. PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh has said that the average customer will save around $33 per year or around $2.75 a month. The new rate structure has not yet been finalized but is expected to begin next year.

The PSC in August also approved a new rate structure for Alabama Power. Still the AARP, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons, tried unsuccessfully in October to convince the PSC to reconsider its plan, saying it would not reduce costs enough for elderly customers.

However, Alabama Power says that through the new structure, customers could see their rates decline in the coming years.

"Our rates remain below the national average, as they have for decades, and are expected at the least to remain flat through 2014," said Alyson Tucker, spokeswoman for Alabama Power.

For more information about the heating bill assistance program, call the Community Action Agency at 256-362-6611.

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.

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