Energy-related crisis funds nearly depleted

Published 6:10 pm Friday, January 22, 2010

Staff Writer

A Beaufort County Department of Social Services program that helps qualified residents with their energy costs has nearly exhausted funds allocated for crisis intervention.
Earlier this month, DSS reported it had received an additional $67,457 to help fund the program, but high demand gobbled up most of that money in a matter of weeks.
DSS reports the crisis fund may help with everything from purchasing heating oil to bridging the gaps between energy-bill balances and what people can afford to pay.
Prior to that recent allocation, the program’s available funds had dwindled to an on-hand $91.
Sylvia King, program manager for income maintenance, said DSS had helped 290 people with their energy costs from Jan. 6 through Jan. 20.
As a result, the crisis program had a little more than $500 left in its coffers as of Thursday, King related.
“It doesn’t look like we’re going to be getting any money any time soon,” she said. “I’ve already inquired of the state.”
Speaking of the money, Sonya Shamseldin, chairwoman of the county’s DSS board, said, “I would have loved for it to be a whole lot more. … I wish we could get some more, but, as far as the monies, I don’t know if it’s going to come.”
The injection of additional funds came as the region was being gripped by some of its coldest weather in the past 25 years. After an extended blast, the frigid air finally moderated recently, with temperatures climbing back to average or above average for this time of year.
According to King, DSS has spent $203,914 to help county residents with their utility bills so far this fiscal year. (The program also has a hot-weather component that is activated in the summer.) Local governments’ fiscal years run from July 1 through June 30.
Last year, DSS received a total allocation of $328,888 for the program, from a combination of state and federal funds, King imparted.
Though there are other sources for utility assistance, those funds are limited also, reports indicated.
Eagle’s Wings, a Washington-based food pantry, gets a small allocation for individual utility assistance from the City of Washington, said Debbie Adams, executive director.
Eagle’s Wings is the largest food pantry in Beaufort County, Adams pointed out.
“If we have utility money, we use it, first come, first served,” she said.
Large numbers of people have lost their jobs and found themselves in lines at DSS, Eagle’s Wings and elsewhere, Adams stated.
“Everybody’s overwhelmed right now with the need,” she said.
Earlier this month, local agencies reported they are offering assistance to people who can’t cope with large energy bills, but aid workers noted that the funds were limited and relied on public-private partnerships to keep them going.