HAZARD—As families open their mailboxes this month, there may be one piece of paper that truly frightens them—the electric bill. With record low temperatures hitting the region this winter, some households have seen heating bills higher than many have seen in years. Luckily, a new grant awarded to an organization in Hazard this year may help in fighting to keep those monstrous bills at bay.
Jeffrey A. Lambert, pastor at the Bowman/Lothair United Methodist Church in Hazard, was awarded a grant at the end of January from the United Methodist Conference for the Perry County Methodist Relief Fund to help families in need this winter.
“If someone gets a disconnect notice from their gas, electric, or water, we can help with that,” Lambert said. “It’s not income based; the only rules are you have to live in Perry County, and have a disconnect notice and a photo ID that matches that disconnect notice.”
Lambert said the grant would only pay $50-$100 of a utility bill, based on how much the bill is for and how much is left to be paid on it, and is not limited to a one time offer.
“If they get a disconnect notice this month, we can help them. If they show up next month with another disconnect notice, we can help them,” he said.
The grant, which was just over $10,000, was awarded to the church well over a month ago; however, less than $1,000 is all that has been used of it.
“We’ve really not had a lot of people plug into this, and I think it’s simply because they just don’t know about it,” he said.
Executive Director of Community Ministries Adrienne Bush said the church has partnered with Community Ministries in order to reach more people who need assistance from the grant.
“At the Corner Haven Crisis Center we get a number of requests on a weekly basis for assistance with utilities or disconnect notices,” Bush said, adding that the number of people she has seen this year has been higher than usual. “This has been an extremely difficult winter for people who are already struggling to get by.”
Bush said she has seen customers, just this year, with heating bills in excess of $600.
“And it’s not because they’re mismanaging their heating or anything like that, it’s just, unfortunately, a sad byproduct of the cold temperatures we’ve had,” she said.
Bush said bills like these could be devastating not only because utilities may be cut off, but because same families may be completely uprooted due to delinquent payments.
“Lots of times if someone is in a rental situation, it is required by the lease that they maintain their electricity. So, if they lose their electric, then they very well may lose their house. A lot of people don’t know that,” Bush explained.
Lambert said the grant will be used on a first-come, first-served basis.
“When the money’s gone, it’s gone,” he said, adding that office hours for anyone who is seeking assistance from the grant are Monday-Wednesday, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m, and calls in advance may need to be made to the church to ensure someone will be in the office.
Lambert said this grant will be a huge help once people hear about it in the area since before this the church was unable to offer assistance to those facing utility cutoff.
“Before we got this grant we had no money,” he said. “If they’d even called us or contacted us I’d have just said, sorry, we don’t have no money.”
Bush said at a time like this, every avenue for assistance helps the community.
“We are grateful to partner with Bowman Memorial United Methodist Church. We’re glad that they reached out to us so we can have another resource for those families in need,” she said.
Amelia Holliday can be reached at 606-436-5771, or on Twitter @HazardHerald.