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Help available to low income residents for paying power bills

DAVID TEWES

By DAVID TEWES
Aug. 18, 2010 at 3:18 a.m.

Few people may know better than Goliad resident Billy Ousley how much it helps to have assistance paying the electric bill.

"If you want to know the truth, it has meant living," he said. "I've got bad heart problems and without air conditioning, I don't know what I can do."

Ousley, 61, said he has had multiple heart attacks and needs air conditioning to just breathe.

He was on the verge of having his power cut off last year when he turned to the Community Action Committee of Victoria for help.

"The last thing I ever wanted to do in my life is go and ask for help," Ousley said. "Community Action are actually life savers."

Vicki Smith, with the Community Action Committee, said her agency offers help with utility bills to people in eight counties, including Aransas, Calhoun, DeWitt, Goliad, Gonzales, Jackson, Lavaca and Victoria.

"The need is tremendous." she said. "The utility bills, because of the heat, have increased in cost, obviously."

The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs provided $1.8 million for assistance to help residents pay power bills. That was increased to $2.4 million.

The Community Action Committee has received additional financial assistance from the power companies, including TXU, CPL, Reliant and Nueces Electric Co-operative.

The requirements for qualifying for assistance vary, depending on the number of people in the household and income.

A single person, for instance, can qualify by grossing $21,660 year. A family of four can gross $44,100 a year and qualify for assistance.

Smith said the Community Action Committee assisted 8,338 people from January through July.

"We do set appointments for people that work or for the elderly that have no transportation here in Victoria," Smith said. "But for the most part, we take them first come, first served."

She said the agency also works with clients to help them deal with their budgets.

"We actually do work with the clients to transition them out of poverty," Smith said. "It's not just a handout of utility assistance."

The clients are also referred to other agencies that can assist them, she said.

Smith said the agency met with more than 40 households just on Tuesday. The funding priority includes the elderly and families with children.

Smith said that as of Monday, the agency still had $417,890 to help residents with their power bills.

"I've been told we will not receive any additional funding this year," Smith said. "We're hoping the cooler weather hits and things will slow down."

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