Local programs help pay utility bills

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COLUMBIA - Monday began Summer Safety Week and local programs are helping those in danger of not being able to pay their utility bills.

With record-high temperatures early in the summer, more households are running the air conditioner. The Boone County/Columbia Department of Public Health and Human Services and Central Missouri Community Action have programs to provide funding for individuals and families’ utility bills.

CMCA’s Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, LIHEAP, started at the beginning of June, but chief program officer Angela Hirsch said 40 percent of its funding has already been used.

“We’ve seen a great number of people so far in these first 18 days of the month," she said. "The program began and will continue as long as we have funding, or until September 30th.” 

Eric Stann, community relations specialist for the Boone County/Columbia Department of Public Health and Human Services, said the popularity of the programs "CASH" and "HELP" varies each month and year.

“HELP is assisting low income residents with children in the home. Eligibility is once a year and five times in their lifetime,” he said.

CASH has the same initiative, but focuses on the elderly and disabled. Both programs provide money to people who have proven their need in an application. They may only receive assistance once.

Stann said people can help their neighbors in need by contacting Boone Electric, signing the annual card that’s sent with their bill or donating online.

“100 percent of the money made out to CASH or HELP go directly to helping our residents with those utility bill payments, and it’s tax-deductible.”

For all of the programs, households must show they are at risk of, or have been disconnected from their utilities. Hirsch said even though CMCA has more money allocated toward LIHEAP, the numbers show funds will run out sooner than later.

“At the rate we’re going, I do not anticipate the program lasting until the end of September,” Hirsch said.

When the money runs out, these program directors partner with local churches, the Salvation Army and local non-profits to get people the help they need. In the meantime, they encourage families to conserve energy by keeping the thermostat a little higher, taking breaks from the outdoors and using designated cooling centers.