Residents camp out for Energy Assistance


The Macon-Bibb County Economic Opportunity Council (EOC) has been meeting with eligible candidates since Tues., Jan. 11, at various sites around Macon to distribute funds for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program. This program makes available a one-time financial assistance to select qualified households that will help with the high-energy cost of the winter months.
To qualify for the assistance under the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, residents are to have a yearly income that is less than or equal to 60 percent of the state median income. Macon’s median income is somewhere around $46,400.
In a recent development, as requested by the state and federal government, residents also have to provide proof of their citizenship with a passport or driver’s license. The extra paperwork slows down the processing time. This change in requirements, however, has not stopped the crowds from showing up.
Eligible citizens waited in long lines, for hours, many sleeping outside in the near freezing temperatures to save their place in line.
When the council for assistance approves an individual, they hand their energy bill over to the EOC, who pays the expenses. In accordance with the state and federal guidelines a person on average receives around $310-$350 in assistance from the EOC.
The program received 40 percent less than it did in 2010, when it received about $2 million. In addition to the cuts, the funds were delayed for more than a month because of Congress’ postponement in approving the federal budget. The delay and the budget cuts have created a greater need in the community, but leave the EOC little funds to assist and fulfill the needs at this time. The minimal aid money recently received by the EOC is roughly around $574,000, and is geared towards people of all age groups in need. The EOC’s previous funds were focused on senior citizens in November 2011, with those support funds totaling $450,000.
In an article written earlier this week, Phillip Ramati interviewed Jimmie Samuel, Executive Director of the EOC. Samuel believes that the program benefits all aspects of the community even those who are not receiving assistance. “The money goes directly to Georgia Power and other utility companies. This helps (residents) to pay other bills, to buy groceries,” said Samuel. Samuel believes this should not be taken in a negative context even though the agency can only support around half the people in need of assistance that apply for the program.
“There’s no question that the people who qualify for energy assistance from LIHEAP (Low Income Energy Assistance Program) benefit from it,” said Courtney Collins, an economics professor at Mercer University.  Collins suggests that the money previously used for energy costs can be allocated for other expenditures because of the program. “This clearly makes them better off than they would have been otherwise,” said Collins.
The EOC will have other assistance sessions at the Unionville Baptist Church, 3837 Houston Avenue on January 24-25. These sessions begin at 7:00 a.m. For more information about the program contact the EOC at 478-750-8689 or 478-330-6272.