Federal funding cut for utility assistance programs

Mid-Missouri residents currently using two programs in the area for utility payment assistance will have to find another option very soon.

Federal funding for the Central Missouri Community Action and North East Community Action Corporation has been exhausted as of this week. Both of these organizations provide help to those unable to pay for energy bills across the central part of the state, but will no longer be able to do so for the remainder of the winter season. This season, they only recieved about half of the funding that they did last year.

The "cold weather rule" is put into effect in Missouri from November to March when temperatures of 32 degrees or less are forecast for the following 24-hour period. This rule helps many residents who are unable to make their energy payments keep their heat on. The rule mandates that a customer's electricity cannot be disconnected when this happens. However, when it is warmer than that during the winter season, customers who cannot pay their bill may have their power turned off.

The end of funding for these two assistance programs poses a major problem to those with disabilities or health issues, as well as the elderly, all of whom may not have the means to pay their energy bills.

California resident Derrick Drew said that the money running out is a big threat to his way of life. Drew, who is on oxygen treatment, relies on electricity to power his air supply. He says he has a few portable tanks, but they last less than an hour apiece. It is difficult and costly to get several of these portable tanks if needed quickly.

Others like Drew will have only a few options to get their energy payment taken care of, since federal lawmakers do not have any plans for immediate funding of these programs. People are still able to fill out an application to recieve a one-time lump-sum payment from the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, depending on what type of heating system they have. The Samaritan Center of Mid-Missouri in Jefferson City also offers utility assistance for those who qualify.