Project HELP assists with utility bills

Published 5:49 pm Friday, December 20, 2013

Project HELP is aptly named, as it provides help to people who need assistance in paying their utility bills.

“Project HELP is a program started by the city. We are now partnering with (Society of) St. Vincent de Paul and The Salvation Army. What it is is a program that the city contributes to help assist customers who are having some problems with their utility bills,” explained Andrea McGee, one of the city’s customer-service representatives.

“I think it’s a fairly popular program. I’m not exactly sure how many people we have participating,” she said.

Project HELP raises money to provide that assistance in three ways. First, Washington Electric Utilities customers may round up their utility bills to the nearest dollar amount, with the difference between the amount of the bill and the rounded-up dollar amount going to Project Help. Second, a Washington Electric Utilities customer may make a lump-sum donation to Project HELP. Third, a Washington Electric Utilities customer may designate a specific amount to be added to his or her monthly utility bill, with that designated amount going to Project Help.

Contributions are tax deductible.

The City of Washington’s electric fund donates $10,000 a year to Project HELP, said Matt Rauschenbach, the city’s chief financial officer and assistant city manager. The city allocates $5,000 to Project HELP in July of each year for use during hot months and $5,000 in December for use during cold months, according to Rauschenbach.

Utility customers contribute slightly over $4,000 during a 12-month period, which equates to about $340 a month, Rauschenbach said.

“We split the funds evenly between The Salvation Army and (Society of) St. Vincent de Paul, which is a Catholic charity. They distribute vouchers to their clients based on need. They have staff to screen based on need. Then, they distribute the money,” Rauschenbach said. “Whenever we accumulate a certain amount of funds, we’ll write checks — half of it to St. Vincent de Paul and the other half to The Salvation Army.”

The two agencies determine who receives assistance, he said. Those who are selected do not receive cash to apply toward their utility bills.

“The clients will come in with a voucher and we will apply that voucher to their utility bills,” Rauschenbach said.

For more information about Project HELP, call the City of Washington at 252-975-9300 or stop by City Hall, 102 E. Second St., Washington.



About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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