Energy assistance in short supply




Summer heat is just around the corner, but energy assistance to help those on fixed incomes beat that heat appears to be in short supply.

For now, people may go to the Salvation Army or the Public Library for emergency shelter from the heat, but funding shortages have put a hold on more concrete help, such as assistance with energy bills, or with obtaining air conditioners.

Harvest America, an organization that helps with rent and energy assistance in Southwest Kansas, has put applicants on hold in Finney, Barton and Ford County, because there were too many people in need and not enough money in this funding cycle.

"Periodically, we have to hold based on funding," said John Miles, operation manager of Harvest America. "As funding comes available we will open up again."

Despite being on hold, Harvest America will refer those caught in the heat to agencies that provide fans, such as the Salvation Army, which has set money aside to buy fans for people who need them.

That need hasn't presented itself yet, Lt. Joyce Curran said.

"Most of the people who are coming in are homeless, and a fan would do them no good," Curran said.

Instead, the Salvation Army allows people to come inside their doors when they are open from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m.

If a family receives a utility disconnect notice, then Curran says the Salvation Army will help a family once each year — either for heating or cooling — at a maximum of $50 dollars per year. They will set up payment plans for utility programs and also help with budgeting to help prevent future utility bill problems.

The Presbyterian Church also helps those with a current disconnect notice once a year, for a total of $75 dollars, as funds are available.

Sister Janice Thome and Sister Roserita Weber of Dominican Sisters Ministry of Presence in Garden City are available to help families as well. They can pay $50 dollars toward a family's electricity or gas bill. They also limit the help to one time per year as funds are available.

Weber says if they receive used fans, they will hand them out as well, but they haven't received any yet.

The Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF) will start helping pay utility bills for those who applied to their low-income energy assistance program before March 31.

Originally, those who applied to this program were in need of heating help. But, Theresa Freed, Communications Director of DCF, says the allocated money will also go toward a supplemental benefit for cooling as well.

The United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries (UMMAM) will help people with utilities on a case-by-case basis after going through an interview process. During this process, UMMAM asks those in need about their stresses, and tries to finds ways to help eliminate them, said Sarah Trapp, Enabling Services Manager at UMMAM.

Their policy is to help families one time, because, after the interview process, they want those who are in need to become financially independent. UMMAM will help them with interviews or applying for a job as needed.

"We have people that come in every day (for utility assistance)," Trapp said. "The need rises around winter and then around the summer months as bills get higher."

As with everyone else, UMMAM can help only when funds are available. Trapp says they don't turn anyone away, however. They will help them find other resources.

At the moment, United Way does not have enough funds to help those in need beat the heat, but they do fund agencies who can assist with utilities.

Susan Escareno, director of the United Way says that the Red Cross gives away fans in Wichita, but not in Garden City.

"There is not a lot of assistance of any kind," Escareno said.

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