By Debby Woodin
and Dustin Shipman
Sarah Davis is a single mother and college student whose hours at work were cut, leaving her short of money to pay winter heating bills.
That sent the Carthage woman to Economic Security Corp. on Thursday to apply for assistance in meeting winter’s expense.
“Without this I would have to ask family for help or get another job. Those are really the only options that I have, but with school it is not easy, so for the next eight weeks I am going to struggle,” Davis said.
Penny Cooper, of Joplin, also is seeking help with heating bills.
“My husband was laid off and I was recently terminated, and it does help because, without this, I wouldn’t even have my lights on and I have a 15-year-old son at home,” Cooper said.
She said it’s hard to ask for assistance when she sees so many others struggling, too.
“There are a lot of people who need help right now, but it is a great help,” she said.
Davis and Cooper aren’t alone. They are among the 5,079 households statewide seeking subsidies this winter to help pay utility bills. With layoffs on the rise and other economic problems, applications are up nearly 28 percent from the 3,975 filed last year in the state, according to figures provided by Robyn Walker, family intake assessment specialist at ESC, 302 Joplin St.
There’s good news, though, for all those who heat with natural gas. Gas rates for customers of Missouri Gas Energy have gone down, from 95 to 77 cents per hundred cubic feet. That will save the average user about $23 in February and March, said Jason Fulp, spokesman for MGE.
And, for those who qualify for assistance, there’s more good news. More people will get help with bills and with weatherizing their homes because more money is being made available for both programs.
Walker said that last year, 1,706 households in Barton, Jasper, Newton and McDonald counties, which are served by ESC, were helped and this year there are 1,862 households so far qualifying for assistance. The payments to those residents total $581,828, but the area is likely to receive another $367,000 for future assistance if an amended payment comes through.
The funds are supplied by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and passed onto ESC through the Missouri Department of Social Services, Walker said.
Area residents also may receive emergency assistance from Project Help, a program offered by Empire District Electric Co. and administered by ESC.
Amy Bass, spokeswoman for Empire, said utility customers donate money to fund Project Help, which makes one-time, emergency assistance available to people who are older than 55 years old or who are disabled with no other way to pay their energy bill.
Since the program was started 25 years ago, more than $645,000 has been donated, which has been used to help more than 5,000 households, Bass said.
Missouri Gas Energy also has a program, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, which is administered by the Mid-America Assistance Coalition for all of MGE’s service area. Details about getting help are available by calling the MAAC at (816) 561-2727.
Another way to help people deal with energy costs is by weatherizing their homes. That program also is available through the ESC.
“New figures from the (U.S.) Department of Energy say that for every dollar we put in, it’s about $1.65 in savings (on energy bills) each year,” said Randy Martin, ESC’s weatherization director.
Households that meet income criteria can receive an average of $3,000 in renovations including attic and sidewall insulation, weather-stripping doors and air-sealing windows, Martin said.
Approximately 110 houses in the four-county area were weatherized this year. Martin said that number will double this year because the program also will receive increased funding.
There are about 70 people on the waiting list, he said.
“Our demand for it depends on the weather. We see a lot less applications in the summer. But, whatever we do benefits them in the summer, too,” Martin said.
People who want to request assistance with utility bills or weatherization may apply by contacting the Economic Security Corp. of Southwest Area at 302 Virginia Ave., Joplin, MO 64801. People without transportation may call (417) 781-0352 to request applications.
By Debby Woodin
- Joplin Metro
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