Help Paying Utilities




Additional utility bill help in Mississippi

The need for help with utility and other bills in Mississippi is increasing. There are hundreds of requests for help swamping area agencies that receive federal LIHEAP funds. In Madison County, these federal funds and grants are funneled through the state Department of Human Services. Madison County Human Resource Agency, which is the county's source of money from LIHEAP: the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Among the reasons for the increase in requests are smaller paychecks and higher utility bills that are higher for this time of year than normal.

While the number of households the LIHEAP program has helped in Mississippi has actually dropped year to year since 2006, this year it has been increasing. In 2006, almost 280,000 households got help with their cooling or heating bills; and the number fell to 185,257 the next year; and again to 166,047 in 2008.

However, at the rate that the requests for help are going so far in 2009, the state will probably serve at least as many as they did in 2006. Just from Jan. 1 through Feb. 20, the number of requests has more than tripled, to almost 40,000, compared to just 10,386 for the same period in 2008.

For 2009, DHS agency has received almost $40 million in regular block-grant money for LIHEAP assistance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which sets the guidelines and distributes the grants. In addition, it received another $3.6 million in emergency contingency funds for families and people whose utility service has been cut off, or are about to be.

The money provided to those in need can be used  for electricity, natural gas, wood, liquid petroleum propane/butane gas, and other energy-related services.

How much aid a person or family receives depends on many factors, including the magnitude of need as well as the number of people living in the household.

One piece of good news is that income restrictions are looser compared to a year ago, thus making making more people eligible. The amount of money and grants one agency can give depends on the county it's in. For example, those in counties with higher percentages of poor households have more to give as help.

In 2006, which is the most recent year for which a statewide number is available, LIHEAP's average monthly cooling and heating benefit in Mississippi was $250.



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