Some summer utility help still available

2014-06-18T13:15:00Z 2014-06-18T17:37:16Z Some summer utility help still availableKeith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

Indiana has run out of money for a statewide program to help people with summer cooling bills, but some local agencies are stepping into the gap to provide other utility assistance.

Those programs include crisis assistance of up to $200 for people threatened by utility shut-offs, an air conditioner give-away for people with certain medical conditions and one that can provide up to $400 for people refilling bulk fuel tanks.

"We have already been bombarded just based on word of mouth," said Client Assistance Manager Jackie Atwater of North Central Community Action Agency in Michigan City.

North Central Community Action Agency is administering all three of the above programs. The agency provides services to people in LaPorte, Starke, and Pulaski counties.

The harsh winter with record low temperatures stretched utility budgets for most low-budget households to the limit, Atwater said. Many lost utility service when the winter moratorium on shut-offs ended in March.

The summer fill program for households that use bulk fuel such as propane is expected to be popular this year after the propane crisis of this past winter had many households draining tanks to the last drop.

Northwest Indiana Community Action has some funds remaining from its winter utility aid programs and has applied to the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority to offer some summer cooling activities, said Community Service Manager Gina Gomez.

The agency plans to launch the programs as soon as possible if approved, Gomez said. The agency serves people in Lake, Porter, Jasper and Newton counties.

But despite the best efforts of the local agencies, people will not be able to get the traditional "summer cooling" benefit that is funded through the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority. That benefit was usually around $50 but could vary from year to year.

The benefit is not being offered this year because the state authority ran out of Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds after helping more than 130,000 households during the winter. The authority divvied out $47.8 million to agencies around the state to distribute to low-income households during the winter.

The summer cooling program in the past automatically provided a benefit to households that had qualified for LIHEAP during the winter.

NIPSCO's aid programs designed to help customers in need with winter heating bills do not extend into the summer, according to NIPSCO spokesman Nick Meyer.

But the utility does offer assistance to those threatened with utility shut-offs any time of year by arranging payment plans where bills in arrears can be paid off over time. The utility also offers a standard budget plan to all customers, which breaks the year's utility costs into 12 equal monthly payments.

It also offers an air conditioner cycling program that can cut customer utility bills by $10 per month during the summer.

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