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Utilities offer savings for low-income customers

Andrea Lannom Charleston Daily Mail

October 9, 2013

(MCT) West Virginians having trouble affording their utility bills may get the help they need through the Dollar Energy Fund’s Utility Assistance Grant Program.


The fund is taking applications now for five of its six utility company partners — Mon Power and Potomac Edison of FirstEnergy, Equitable Gas, Dominion Hope, Mountaineer Gas and West Virginia American Water.


The grant opening period for its remaining partner, Appalachian Power, will start Dec. 1.


According to a news release from the Dollar Energy Fund, Appalachian Power President and Chief Operating Officer Charles Patton said the company is delaying participation and reducing the grant award from $500 to $300 in an effort to spread funds through the winter months.


To qualify, people have to earn below 150 percent of the poverty level and have received a termination notice or have their utility turned off. For example, a family of four would have to earn $35,325 to qualify for assistance.


People also have to make a sincere effort of payment of $100 in the last 90 days or $50 for West Virginia American Water.


“It gets you on your feet, pulls you out from what’s holding you down and alleviates some of that stress,” said Rachel Coffman, the fund’s Appalachian program manager.


Each household can apply once a year per utility between Oct. 1 and Sept. 30, 2014, according to the release. The maximum grant amount is $500.


“Our motto is this is a hand up not a handout. This is not a yearlong funding for people getting in the program,” Coffman said.


It’s not just the winter months that people need help with their utility bills, Coffman said.


“There’s never a time it slows down,” Coffman said. “Most funds come in Oct. 1 for the cooler months in the winter but whenever we do get funds to put in summer, it’s depleted just as fast as in the winter.”


According to the release, the organization, which has helped more than 21,000 West Virginians since 2008, is funded by private contributions that are matched by utility companies.


The fund usually distributes about $1.5 million each year, including the utility match, to West Virginians, Coffman said.


Coffman said typically, the fund sees the working poor applying for assistance and almost half are female head of household.


“We get a lot of families with medical debt,” she said. “A lot have been laid off and have never asked for funding before.”


Customers can donate to the Dollar Energy Fund through their monthly utility bill and also make direct donations at www.dollarenergyfund.org or send a check to Box 3979, Charleston, WV 25339. Donations are tax deductible.


Contact writer Andrea Lannom at Andrea.Lannom@dailymail.com or 304-348-5148. Follow her at www.twitter.com/AndreaLannom.


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(c) 2013 the Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston, W.Va.)


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