utility cuts

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COLUMBIA - Funding for utilities assistance in Mid-Missouri will most likely be cut by 50 percent this fiscal year, representatives with the Central Missouri Community Action said Thursday. 

The fiscal year for the federally funded Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, better known as LIHEAP, began on October 1st.

Applications for senior citizens and the disabled were released on October 1st, and applications for families with children with be released on November 1st. 

This funding crisis began last winter when President Obama announced utility assistance program budgets would be cut by 50 percent. 

This coincided with mid-year cuts in the 2011 budget, that forced CMCA to cut jobs and assistance funding. 

Since then, assistance programs struggled through a hot summer with less funding than expected, and as the new fiscal year rolls around, these same organizations are preparing for even bigger cuts.

"This is a transition period for us," said Angela Hirsch, Community Services Director at the Central Missouri Community Alliance. 

An appropriation bill is moving through the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, that would increase the amount of federal funding these types of organizations receive, but until action is taken on these proposals, groups like CMCA are planning for the worst.

According to CMCA, other similar assistance programs not funded through the federal government are still feeling the financial crunch, and when people are turned away from LIHEAP funds, there are few alternatives. 

The Heat Energy and Light Program through the City of Columbia, better known as H.E.L.P, posted on their website that they are also in need of funding, and have recently turned away nearly half of those seeking funds. 

According to CMCA, last year marked some of the greatest demand for assistance in utilities payments. 

"We're asking that families be patient with us and work with us and we will do everything we can do to serve as many people as we can," Hirsch said.