Families asking for heating help, left in the cold

8:28 PM, Dec 3, 2013   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- Georgia's Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, has many families hot under the collar but cold in their homes.

Several agencies, contracted to help pass out the $60 million allocated this year, say they have yet to receive the funds, or even be told how much assistance they can promise.

"Some people will lose their services, some people will choose between buying food or paying their utility bill to keep their lights on," said Yvonne Thomas, the VP of Programs and Services for the Fulton Atlanta Community Action Authority.

Congressman John Lewis sent a frustrated notice to the news on Monday concerned that the money was gone, perhaps even mis-spent.

He later learned the money was there in state coffers, it just had not yet been released to partnering agencies.  The question now is why?

Despite repeated calls and emails, the Department of Human Services which administers the program, has yet to say.

Seniors and low income disabled residents were allowed to apply for assistance in November, although no one has received a dime in aid.  The general public was supposed to be able to start applying December 2nd, but until the funds are released the doors are closed.

"My lights going to get turned off. I don't have money to pay it," said Linda Goode.

Goode was handed a piece of paper describing the qualifications for the program and was told to try again in a few days.

The Partnership for Community Action says the delayed funding has become a chronic problem since 2011.  Energy coordinator Heather Smith has no idea if its the same issue each year, she just knows this year, she's had to lay off about 45 part time employees until its resolved.

The employees would typically work processing applications for some 27,000 households.  But without the funds, the agency has no applications to process.

Since Monday Smith says nearly a thousand people have come to her office for help, another 3,000 have called.

The two agencies 11Alive talked with help roughly 44,000 families each winter.

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