The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

June 28, 2006

Area agencies offer help with utility bills

By Linda Greer

Globe Staff Writer

When elderly or disabled residents think they must choose between buying medicine or staying cool, they should think again.

Several area agencies have programs aimed at heading off contemplation of such decisions.

"We never turn anyone away," said Lori Blythe, American Red Cross administrative assistant in Joplin. "We stick with them until they get the help they need."

The Red Cross' Project Help is designed to help residents older than 55 or those drawing disability compensation who are facing a utility disconnection because they cannot afford to pay the bill.

Blythe said people on fixed incomes are having trouble paying their bills because they have no way to generate additional income.

"We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of people needing assistance," she said.

Project Help is funded in part by contributions from Empire District Electric Co. customers who donate $1 toward the program when paying their monthly electric bills. Blythe said more donations are needed to help the growing number of recipients.

Applicants can receive up to $150 every six months, she said.

The Economic Security Corp., a community-action agency based in Joplin, offers a variety of programs year-round to help low-income, elderly and disabled residents keep their utility services on, said Tammy Walker, director of community development for the corporation.

"I anticipate with all of the rate increases, the people affected the most will be the elderly," Walker said. "What are they going to do to make more money?"

Walker said the agency is fortunate to receive more federal money this year - $800,000 - for the summer utility-assistance program that started June 5.

"We'll use it all," she said. "Last summer, we were only able to run a couple of months."

Through the agency's Energy Crisis Intervention Program, qualified residents with a shut-off notice can have up to $300 paid on their electric bill.

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