City to cre­ate aid for util­ity cus­tomers

No time frame in place for new pro­gram

The Covington News - - Front Page - By Rachel Oswald

It ap­pears likely the city of Cov­ing­ton will be able to put in place a fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance pro­gram for util­ity cus­tomers strug­gling to pay their en­ergy bills.

A util­ity as­sis­tance pro­gram for the city would likely be sim­i­lar to Snap­ping Shoals EMC’s Op­er­a­tion Round Up pro­gram.

Op­er­a­tion Round Up gives Snap­ping Shoals cus­tomers the op­tion of choos­ing to have their monthly en­ergy bills rounded up to the next high­est dol­lar amount.

The pro­ceeds from the roundup go into a bank ac­count ad­min­is­tered by the Snap­ping Shoals Elec­tric Trust Board of Direc­tors.

Funds raised by Op­er­a­tion Round Up are used to help in­di­vid­ual fam­i­lies in need and are also dis­trib­uted to lo­cal char­i­ties. De­ci­sions on the dis­tri­bu­tion of pro­ceeds are made by the Board of Direc­tors.

The Cov­ing­ton City Coun­cil was briefed on the find­ings of a spe­cial com­mit­tee formed in Oc­to­ber 2007 to look into the pos­si­bil­ity of a roundup pro­gram dur­ing a work ses­sion at the end of Jan­uary.

“We are of the be­lief that we can put a memo in the bills to opt into a util­ity as­sis­tance pro­gram,” said City Man­ager Steve Hor­ton who served on the spe­cial com­mit­tee.

Hor­ton said the coun­cil needed to come up with a set of cri­te­ria for judg­ing the qual­i­fi­ca­tions of pro­gram ap­pli­cants.

City At­tor­ney Ed Crudup sug­gested the coun­cil con­sider in­come lev­els, age, the num­ber of chil­dren and house­hold size when de­ter­min­ing an ap­pli­cant’s el­i­gi­bil­ity to qual­ify for pro­gram as­sis­tance.

Coun­cil­man Keith Dal­ton said he be­lieved only Cov­ing­ton util­ity cus­tomers should be el­i­gi­ble to qual­ify for as­sis­tance in pay­ing their en­ergy bills.

Coun­cil­woman Hawnethia Wil­liams said the coun­cil should be very care­ful in de­vis­ing the cri­te­ria for qual­i­fy­ing ap­pli­cants.

“If we don’t dot our ‘i’s and cross our ‘t’s, we could be up the creek with­out a pad­dle,” Wil­liams said.

Hor­ton said the city coun­cil had two op­tions to weigh: whether to dis­trib­ute the funds di­rectly or to con­tract with a third party or­ga­ni­za­tion which would han­dle the dis­burse­ment of funds. Hor­ton said there was also the pos­si­bil­ity of the coun­cil cre­at­ing a spe­cial board of lo­cal res­i­dents who would con­sider ap­pli­ca­tions for util­ity as­sis­tance.

Crudup said the com­mit­tee had to dis­re­gard the pos­si­bil­ity of con­tract­ing with FaithWorks, a lo­cal Chris­tian- based min­istry which pro­vides emer­gency fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to fam­i­lies strug­gling to pay their en­ergy bills, be­cause of the Con­sti­tu­tional re­quire­ment of the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state.

“We need to be very care­ful in keep­ing church and state sep­a­rate,” Crudup said.

Speak­ing on Tues­day, Hor­ton said the com­mit­tee was look­ing into the pos­si­bil­ity of work­ing with the Heat­ing En­ergy As­sis­tance Team’s Part­ner­ship for Com­mu­nity Ac­tion.

H.E.A.T. is a 25-year-old or­ga­ni­za­tion that helps low­in­come Ge­or­gians pay their en­ergy bills. It is the na­tion’s first statewide fuel fund and de­pends on do­na­tions from cor­po­ra­tions, en­ergy sup­pli­ers and in­di­vid­u­als. In 2007, it dis­trib­uted $755,000 in en­ergy as­sis­tance.

“ Ob­vi­ously, they’ve done that type of ac­tiv­ity for a long time,” Hor­ton said. “We just be­lieve that they could pro­vide us with real time cri­te­ria for how th­ese pro­grams op­er­ate.”

Hor­ton said he did not have a time­frame for when the roundup pro­gram could go into ef­fect but added he hoped to have more in­for­ma­tion to present to the coun­cil on qual­i­fy­ing cri­te­ria at the coun­cil’s first meet­ing in March.

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