Project HELP assists customers with utility needs

Published 5:40 pm Monday, February 6, 2017

Although this winter, overall, might be a fairly warm one, it’s not over and that likely means some frigid days and nights in the area before spring comes.

There’s no doubt that when freezing and below freezing temperatures occur, some folks — the elderly, the poor and those on fixed incomes — will find it difficult or impossible to pay their bills when it comes to keeping their homes, and themselves, warm in winter and cool in summer.

There is some relief for such people. It’s Project HELP, offered by Washington Electric Utilities. The city partners with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and The Salvation Army to operate the program. Those two agencies determine who receives assistance. Those who are selected do not receive cash to apply toward their utility bills. Applicants are screened, based on need, to determine if they will receive assistance.

The recipients are given vouchers, which they provide to the city. The vouchers are applied to customers’ utility bills. This system ensures the money is spent to meet energy needs and not on anything else.

Project HELP provides WEU customers options to help those who face challenges in paying their heating or cooling bills. 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, in a previous interview. 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.

The allocation is listed in the city’s annual financial report as “utility assistance contribution.”

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

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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