AJFC has federal funds available to help pay heating bills

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 11, 2001

Funds from a federal emergency assistance program are available to eligible families in Southwest Mississippi who need help paying energy bills.

More than $300,000 has been allocated to the AJFC Community Action Agency to aid families in a seven-county area, said Tina Ruffin of the state Department of Human Services division administering the $6 million allocated to Mississippi by the LIHEAP program.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program assists low-income households in meeting the heating or cooling portions of their residential energy needs.

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Sadie Bacon, case manager supervisor for the AJFC, said the agency at 101 Clifton Ave. already has begun helping area residents whose gas bills have quadrupled in January based on last year’s costs.

&uot;We had one client who came in with a gas bill of $554,&uot; Bacon said. &uot;We’ll pay that bill for her.&uot;

Whereas in years past the agency might have paid only a portion of the higher winter-month bills for the eligible clients, with the additional emergency funds this year the agency can give more assistance, Bacon said.

Guidelines for eligibility are strictly according to federal regulations, Bacon said, recommending that people who need help should call the agency at 442-8681 and ask for the energy department.

The agency is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Bacon said extra workers are on hand at all the offices in all the counties to help serve clients more speedily.

AJFC serves Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Claiborne, Lawrence, Lincoln and Copiah counties, with offices in each county.

&uot;We took 380 names in Copiah County in one day,&uot; Bacon said.

&uot;We will take names over the phone and then call people as we get to them on a first-come, first-served basis,&uot; she said.

&uot;When we call someone to come in, we will tell them what they need to bring for the interview.&uot;

Bacon urges those who foresee a need to seek help as soon as possible. &uot;We don’t want people to wait until they have their gas or electricity turned off and then have to wait 10 to 15 days for a check to be cut,&uot; she said.

Companies supplying gas and electricity in the seven-county area have been cooperative in holding bills to give the AJFC time to pay, Bacon said.

&uot;If we call and tell them we’re going to pay that bill, they know we’re going to do that,&uot; she said.

Bacon said the current emergency needs for energy are the most severe she has seen in the nearly 28 years she has worked for AJFC.

&uot;This is the biggest crisis we’ve had because it came so fast,&uot; she said. &uot;But whatever we have to do to keep people warm, we’ll do it.&uot;

Basic eligibility guidelines for LIHEAP assistance starts with the state’s median income, which in Mississippi is $43,907 for a family of four.

To be eligible for LIHEAP, the family of four must have an income below 60 percent of that median, or $26,344. Other guidelines, all set by federal law, may apply.

More information on the program is available at the federal agency’s Web site, www.acf.dhhs.gov/programs/liheap, including calculations for median incomes for families of different sizes in Mississippi.

&uot;We have to screen families to those who strictly are in need,&uot; Bacon said. &uot;But we’ll try to help anyone who qualifies.&uot;

AJFC also has a limited supply of blankets. &uot;Mississippi Valley Gas bought 20,000 blankets for the 82 counties,&uot; she said. &uot;We weren’t able to get many, but we’re going to try to get those out to families who have children.&uot;