By Emma Bowen Meyer
For The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — Cold winter weather causes Madison County residents to reach for the thermostat. Others are struggling just to keep the electricity and gas operating at minimal levels.
To assist families from having their heat shut off during the worst time of the year, the United Way of Madison County has a special Friend to Friend Utility Assistance Program, but the money usually runs out before the winter months are finished.
“People are cold,” said Rogers-Hatfield. “Some are able to get space heaters to make due, but that is no way for anyone to live. Children cannot sleep and family members can’t take showers because there is no hot water – which makes it hard to succeed at an interview or job.”
Setting aside $60,000 each year, the United Way is able to help approximately 400 families with the one-time maximum benefit of $150. Often that assistance is combined with other services and struggling families can make it to the next month or apply for federal assistance under the Low-Income Heating Emergency Assistance Program.
“We know through our 211 hotline that utility assistance is the No. 1 request for help to us,” said Kim Rogers- Hatfield, VP of operations for United Way. “We work through our CAN agencies that directly work with families in the community. After they conduct the interviews, we pay the utilities directly.”
Community Access Network (CAN) agencies are Salvation Army, Operation Love, Lafayette Township Trustee’s Office, Society of St. Vincent De Paul, St. John’s Health System, Aspire, Second Harvest Food Bank, Alternatives, Alexandria Community Center and First United Methodist Church. A data bank allows them to share information to ensure assistance is efficiency administered and not duplicated.
“Utility bills are higher than they used to be and it seems like we are getting more people coming in with higher bills,” said Steve Anderson, Lafayette Township trustee. “Used to be that helping with $100 on a utility bill would take care of it. We are also seeing a lot of people for the first time who have lost their jobs.”
While job loss is part of the problem, Anderson says that the bulk of his clients are the working poor. Their minimum-wage jobs are simply not paying enough to cover their bills.
“The recent deduction in food stamps causes many of these people a loss of $36 of purchasing power – which is a lot of money to someone making their wages,” he added. “And they are facing a cliff effect. As soon as they get a raise, they are immediately cut on food stamps, child care and other services, which throws them right back to where they were before.”
Money from the Friend to Friend program becomes available Oct. 1 and continues until the money is depleted, which is usually February, long before spring has sprung.
Ways to give to Friend to Friend: Mail: Friend to Friend, c/o United Way of Madison County, P. O. Box 1200 Anderson, IN 46015. Online: unitedwaymadisonco.org/giveheat Text: GIVEHEAT to 50555 to donate $10 (data charges may apply)