By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian
Applications are being taken for a statewide program that helps families pay utility bills.
Dollar Energy Fund began providing utility assistance grants for the 2013-14 year Tuesday.
The West Virginia Utility Assistance Program supplies once-yearly grants up to $500 for low-income households to avoid water, gas or electric utility termination.
“We’ve been in West Virginia since 2008,” said Rachel Coffman, program manager, Appalachian region, Dollar Energy Fund. “We partner with utility companies to handle assistance programs. The program is a hand-up, not a handout.”
Utility partners include Equitable Gas, Dominion Hope, Mountaineer Gas, Appalachian Power, FirstEnergy and West Virginia American Water.
The program helps families who have received a utility termination notice, she said.
Applicants must be residents of West Virginia. They must have paid at least $100 toward their gas and/or electric utility bill in the 90 days prior to applying. For those 62 years of age or older, a reduced payment of $75 within the past 90 days is acceptable.
Applicants seeking assistance with their West Virginia American Water bill must have paid at least $50 toward their bill in the 90 days prior to applying.
Prior to applying for the West Virginia Utility Assistance Program, all applicants must have previously applied for all open and available state and federal programs. These programs include EA, LIEAP and E-LIEAP. Each household may apply once per utility (water, electric and gas) per year between Oct. 1, 2013, and Sept. 30, 2014, to avoid termination. The maximum grant is $500.
The program has helped more than 20,000 households in the state keep their utilities connected.
To be eligible for a grant, you must have received a termination notice from a utility and be at or below the 150 percent federal poverty level.
To apply, you must have a termination notice, proof of income or non-income, valid government-issued identification card, last utility bill, and names, birth dates and Social Security numbers for everyone in the household.
“The money is distributed to the utility company and is taken off the household’s bills,” Coffman said. “Last year there were 4,482 grant applications throughout the state. It roughly averages that for the last four years. We would make more. It’s just our funding runs out. The demand is always there.
“That amount is very helpful,” Coffman said. “The average request is $300 to $330. They’re not requesting the whole $500.
“We helped 21,949 West Virginia households avoid termination,” she said. “We fully restored utilities to 3,677 households.”
From 2008-13, the program has helped 653 households in Marion County, with the lowest, 14, in Tyler County, and the most, 5,941, in Kanawha County.
Since Dollar Energy Fund expanded into West Virginia in 2008, more than $6.5 million has been distributed to 21,949 households throughout the state.
The organization is also found in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, Tennessee, Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas.
Donations may be made through utility bills, by sending donations directly to Box 3979, Charleston, WV 25339, or through the organization’s website. Additional information may be found on Dollar Energy Fund’s website at www.dollarenergyfund.org.
Email Debra Minor Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.