Energy assistance program strapped

Published 10:59 pm Thursday, January 10, 2008

By Staff
More than 80 percent of funds for fiscal year have already been spent
Managing Editor
Beaufort County spent more than 80 percent of its funds earmarked for emergency energy assistance this fiscal year in the first half of that year, a county official said Wednesday.
So far, $84,210 of the $101,000 budgeted for such assistance has been used to help people with health problems and who face having their utilities cut off, said Jim Harriett, director of the Beaufort County Department of Social Services.
The county’s emergency assistance program receives funds from the federal government, with that amount varying from year to year. Money for the program does not come from county taxpayers. The current fiscal year started July 1.
The emergency assistance program provides up to $600 per household for people who are in danger of having their utilities cut off. The program is limited to people who are within 150 percent of the poverty line. The assistance is offered only if the temperature is expected to be higher than 95 degrees or lower than 40 degrees.
During the past three fiscal years, the program’s budget has risen from $119,800 to $112,000 to $153,000.
Energy assistance is a small part of the department’s $108 million budget. The majority of that budget is Medicaid-related. The county does not operate a program that helps low-income residents weatherproof their homes.
Harriett said of the weatherization program, “What we deal with are people who have bills that they can’t pay.”
If a homeowner can make even some small home improvements, the savings in energy costs can be significant, according to Keith Hardt, director of Washington Electric Utilities. Some savings don’t cost a dime to realize, he said.