By Dennis Washington
If you live in Alabama and are low-income, age 60 or older and/or disabled, programs are available to help pay utilities and improve the energy efficiency of your home.
Stephanie Keith is executive director of the Community Action Agency of Talladega, Clay, Randolph, Calhoun and Cleburne (TCRCC) counties. Her agency is one of nearly two dozen across Alabama helping economically distressed Alabamians with their utility bills.
“Once the application has been processed and they do qualify, we immediately send a pledge over to the assigned vendor,” Keith said. “They are aware that this person does qualify and that Community Action Agency is covering that particular bill.”
TCRCC and other agencies provide assistance thanks to a number of federal, state and community funding sources, including:
- Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a federal effort to help millions of vulnerable Americans pay energy bills. The program is funded by Congress to assist families near or below the poverty level. In Alabama, LIHEAP is administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA).
- Project SHARE (Service to Help Alabamians with Relief on Energy), a program established in 1982 to provide assistance to low-income elderly and disabled people needing help with their heating and cooling bills. Administered by the Salvation Army of Greater Birmingham, Project SHARE is a partnership involving Alabama Power and electric cooperatives across the state.
- The Alabama Business Charitable Trust Fund (ABC Trust), a nonprofit organization created by Alabama Power stockholders in 1992 to supplement energy-assistance efforts. The trust works with community action agencies to help cover the cost of heating and cooling for low-income families and those struggling with temporary financial problems.
“They are very thankful for the program,” Keith said. “We’ve had some customers who want to hug or kiss or cry. Times are really hard and anyone of us at any time could be sitting on the other side of the desk, so we have to be humble and grateful, making sure that we provide the assistance that our customers need.”
Funding and resources supporting these programs come from a variety of sources, including Alabama Power and its independent charitable organization, the Alabama Power Foundation. Tequila Smith, president of the foundation and Alabama Power’s vice president of Charitable Giving, said the funding often supports low-income families in Alabama who typically wouldn’t qualify for federal energy assistance.
“As a company and a good corporate citizen, Alabama Power understands the challenges that many Alabama families with limited resources face every day,” Smith said. “That’s why we established the Alabama Business Charitable Trust more than 25 years ago, working with partners to assist with the energy needs of low-income Alabamians.”
To apply for financial assistance with utility bills, contact the Community Action Agency or social services agency serving your county. A complete list of those agencies can be found here. Customers wanting to request energy assistance through Project SHARE may apply at their local Salvation Army office or by calling 205-328-2420.
Improving energy efficiency at home
Thousands of economically distressed Alabamians are eligible for home energy efficiency improvements through the Alabama Weatherization Assistance Program (AWAP), an ADECA service funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. ADECA contracts with community action agencies and the Central Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission to deliver weatherization assistance in all 67 Alabama counties.
“The program does basic home improvements,” Keith said. “The home must meet the building criteria as well as the poverty guideline criteria. We select those homes based off of the points system that ADECA has already established.”
Contractors improve the energy efficiency of a home through a variety of services, such as installing attic, wall and floor insulation, sealing ductwork, performing heating and air-conditioning system tune-ups, repairing leaky windows and doors and replacing incandescent lightbulbs with more efficient ones. Health and safety checks are also performed on each home.
“Those who have received assistance are overjoyed with that because it does make a difference,” Keith said. “We would love to be able to assist everyone but unfortunately, due to funding, we can’t reach everybody.”
Smith said helping neighbors in need is a team effort.
“Alabama Power appreciates the close coordination and relationship we have with all our partners – including government agencies, community action agencies, nonprofits and faith-based groups – to help meet the energy needs of Alabamians,” Smith said. “That way families can get the help they need as quickly as possible.”
To receive assistance, an applicant’s income must not exceed 200% of the federal poverty level. To apply for assistance through AWAP, contact the Community Action Agency or social services agency serving your county. A complete list of those agencies can be found here.