CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It’s that time of year. With fall kicking into full gear many West Virginians will soon be turning on their furnaces for the first time in months and using more hot water. Along with that comes the bills and some people just don’t have the money to pay for cold-weather utilities.
The West Virginia Dollar Energy Fund kicked off its sixth year last week. Since 2008 the DEF has helped thousands of households here in West Virginia maintain or restore basic gas, electric and water utility service.
“[We've helped] 21,000 households across the state avoid utility termination. We’re very proud of that number,” Rachel Coffman the Dollar Energy Fund Appalachian Program Manager said. “That’s six million dollars in grant funds we’ve raised and our utility partners around the state have matched.”
This year the DEF hopes to help even more families. It all comes down to community support.
“If we get money, it’s gone. It depends on how much we can get through donations and that’s why the donations are so important,” explained Coffman.
She said even a small amount can make a difference because of their partnership with utility companies.
“Every donation that you give to the Dollar Energy Fund, the utility companies will match. So any donation has double the impact,” stressed Coffman. “So a one-dollar donation is actually two dollars. Ten-dollars is actually 20. That’s helped us a lot.”
The program allows limited income households at or below the 150 percent federal poverty level and who have received a utility-termination notice to apply.
Coffman says there are a lot of different reasons people come to the DEF for assistance.
“From people who have just been laid off or they’ve had this unexpected medical emergency and now they have these medical bills and they’re left with the choice. They’ve got to leave one bill out,” according to Coffman.
She said no one should be forced to make that decision. That’s why the utilities offer up to $500 per household, per year to help with payment.
This year the program is operating a little differently. Because of such great demand for electricity assistance from Appalachian Power, the company is delaying the opening of grants for their customers until December 1 and reducing the maximum grant from $500 to $300.
The DEF program runs year round and also helps to pay for electric bills during the summer months when air conditioners are running non-stop.
If you need temporary assistance, you can log on to www.dollarenergyfund.org. You can use the same website to make a donation or check off the donation box on your next utility bill.