Low funding leaves Community Action unable to help repeat customers

Thursday, February 28, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Hudson Giles-Lavender has been busy lately answering calls from people needing help with their winter utility bills. More often than not, she has to tell them help can’t be provided.

“Hundreds have called during the last weeks,” she said.

Giles-Lavender handles the call center at Central Missouri Community Action, an organization that supports low-income families from eight Missouri counties and helps them to become self-sufficient.

Community Action has been out of crisis funds since the beginning of the year, which means it can’t provide assistance to anyone who's already been helped this winter.

It is the longest the agency has gone without the crisis funds. “The organization has never been out of funds for more than two weeks,” Colita Harvey of Community Action said.

The agency has used all of the $681,311 in crisis funds for this winter, which is less than half of the $1.43 million it received for the previous winter.

Fortunately, there are still funds available for energy assistance to qualified individuals who have yet to take advantage of funding help this winter.

Funds mostly come from the federal government, but private donations are also accepted.

To be eligible for crisis funding, applicants must have a utilities disconnection notice or be shut off Additionally, their income can’t exceed $1,247 for one person; $1,702 for two-person families; or $2,148 for families of three.

Giles-Lavender usually advises callers who seek help to try other ways to get energy assistance. “Some people aren’t aware of the services that their community offers,” she said.

Through the Energy Crisis Intervention Program, clients may get up to $800 worth of assistance in the winter and $300 during the summer program that runs from June 1 to Sept. 30.

Because of the lack of money, the summer program is threatened as well, Harvey said.

In summer 2012, the organization had $507,301 available. Community Action will have an idea of how much money is available for the summer program by mid-May, Harvey said.

“You are welcome to call and check back to see if the situation changes,” Giles-Lavender said after telling another caller she couldn't help them.

More information is available online about Community Action's energy assistance programs.

Supervising editor is John Schneller 

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Bob Hill February 28, 2013 | 11:50 a.m.

So if the goal is to help people become 'self sufficient', then why is Community Action worried about repeat customers?!?!?

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