Local Program Helps Residents In Need Pay Utility Bills

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A local program is assisting families and households facing emergency situations this season to maintain or restore their electric and gas service.

Hocking-Athens-Perry Community Action Program (HAPCAP) began scheduling appointments for its Winter Crisis Program on Nov. 1, and has processed 1,320 applications since that date.

"They seem to be seeing a lot of new customers so people who may have never needed assistance in the past have found themselves in situations where they need it now," said Kerri Shaw, HAPCAP community services coordinator.

The organization defines an emergency situation as having a disconnect notice on electric or natural gas, or having less than a 25 percent or 10-day supply of bulk fuel such as propane, wood, coal fuel oil or kerosene. 

To qualify for the Winter Crisis Program, residents are required to present documentation of three months' gross income for all household members, verification of Social Security Numbers for all household members, proof of citizenship for the primary applicant and copies of their utility bills.

The state has allocated $1.1 million to fund the crisis program this year, and Shaw said the program does not have a limit on number of residents that it can assist.

"It should be enough to get us through the winter, but the state, I think, is willing to support us if we go beyond that," she said.

Shaw said the residents will be notified at the same time of their in-person appointment about whether or not they will receive funding.

"Because it's a crisis program, we really want people feel when they walk out of the door to feel better than when they walked in," she said.

Shaw said the program has assisted approximately 4,000 residents who were in need of emergency assistance in Hocking, Athens and Perry counties since the program began.

"I think winter bills are very stressful for people, and we hope this is a resource for families and households when they feel they have nowhere to turn, and that they feel we are here to support them," said Shaw.

The organization is accepting applications for the Winter Crisis Program until March 31, 2013.