At risk: Utility assistance for low income families, seniors and disabled

2 years 1 month 3 weeks ago Wednesday, September 20 2017 Sep 20, 2017 Wednesday, September 20, 2017 5:50:00 PM CDT September 20, 2017 in News
By: Jenna Puritz, KOMU Reporter
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COLUMBIA - David Robinson is one of the hundreds of people who will lose help paying his utilities, if a federal program is cut.

"Bottom line is, I'd possibly be homeless," Robinson said. 

The Low Income Housing Energy Assistance Program is a federally mandated program that helps pay utility bills for the older people, people with disabilities and families that qualify for low income housing. It provides heating and cooling for homes, and it also incorporates a weatherization program to help with energy efficiency. 

"Generally, three or four times a year I need their services to help with my utilities assistance, and that would be the electrical part," Robinson said. 

He has lived in Columbia since the 1990s, but hasn't always struggled payment-to-payment. He reminisced about a time when he made six-figures, but said life gets in the way. 

"I've been in this same predicament to sometime in my life, and there's been people to help me," Robinson said. 

Robinson, along with people from Central Missouri Community Action and the Sierra Club, met Wednesday at the Family Resource Center to discuss the need to continue LIHEAP. 

The program serves Boone, Cole, Callaway, Cooper, Howard, Osage, Monitaeu and Audrain counties. it provides assistance to more than 6,000 families, more than half of which are older or disabled. 

In addition to utility assistance, a weatherization component is included as well. 

Central Missouri Community Action Weatherization Program Manager Candy West said, "With weatherization, an auditor goes out to the house and they educate the household on what they can do to improve energy efficiency." 

West said improving systems, such as new insulation and cleaning out air ducts, can help utility costs come down. 

The services are free to anyone who meets the guidelines of falling within 200 percent of the poverty level.

Carolyn Amparan, the vice chair of the Missouri Chapter Sierra Club, said the issues of not being able to afford utilities coincides with environmental ramifications.

Amparan said, because of climate change, people should be worried about bills in the summer time instead of winter. 

"Right now, eight days a year are over 95 degrees. By 2040 or 2050, it could be up to 35 days over 95 degrees," she said. 

Congress has 10 more days to make a decision whether to continue or cut funding for LIHEAP. 

The Central Missouri Community Action webpage offers a way to apply for energy assistance.

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