Columbia Sees Shortage of Utility Assitance

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia Boone County Health Department said Wednesday it is already out of funds to assist with utilities this month. Rebecca Roesslet, social services supervisor, said all the funding for the department's utility assistance programs, which is used to help city Water and Light customers, comes from customer donations. Rosslet said the department has not seen enough money to carry over month to month in about five years. Last month, the health department was able to help 36 customers with their utility bills, but it received 648 calls requesting help.

The health department is not the only organization lacking funds. Central Missouri Community Action said it is also much lower on funding this year. CMCA said the state cut its funding in half for this fiscal year, starting October 1.  Executive Director Darin Preis said last year, its funding was at $1.1 million. This year its funding is at $562,000. Preis said CMCA had to reorganize its employees and no longer has many at its offices on North Providence in Columbia. Preis said CMCA is no longer accepting walk-ins for utilities assistance. Instead, all its forms are available online and by mail. Preis also said people should talk to their congress member if they want change.

Preis guessed CMCA will only be able to help around 9,000 people this year. Last year it was able to help more than 12,000. Preis said he is nervous for the colder months and the problems they could bring for people who need utility assistance. Preis encouraged people to look into CMCA's weatherization program, which could greatly reduce energy costs.