Help for home heat organized

Friday, February 6, 2009

Two of Lewisburg's utilities have turned to the Ministerial Association for guidance on how to distribute money allocated for gas and electric bills that are just too much for households struck by cold, layoffs and reduced hours.

"People in our community are hurting," the Rev. James Hickey, president of the association and pastor at East Commerce Baptist Church. "We know that God meets all our needs, but there are practical needs that we need to address."

Toward that end, the association is calling on ministers, pastors, preachers and clerics of all faiths, full- or part-time, to assemble at the Lewisburg Gas Department's large meeting room on Tuesday, Feb. 17, at 6 p.m.

At that time and place, they're to be told about the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Lewisburg Electric System's new Neighbors Helping Neighbors project, a similar $1 check-off donation system by Duck River Electric Membership Corp., and the Gas Department's Volunteer Gas Fund.

The information is to help ministers help "not only their flock," LGD Manager Patricia Morgan said. "They get a lot of people coming in for help and this is to help those people, too."

LGD Accounts Manager Craig Blackwell told the Ministerial Association, "We have received more money than ever before," so he sought a general open meeting to explain what's available so ministers would know who's eligible.

People receiving unemployment insurance payments and households that have been buying groceries with Food Stamps are generally perceived as eligible, according to recurring reports based on information from the South Central Human Resources Agency headquartered in Fayetteville.

That applies to LIHEAP, but the new Neighbors Helping Neighbors program at Lewisburg Electric was created with the utility board's faith that the Ministerial Association could make appropriate judgments on how to best use the resources.

The LES program is modeled after the Volunteer Gas Fund, but is brand new. The power board deferred to the Ministerial Association for a committee of pastors to help make decisions and Wednesday morning Hickey appointed retired Rev. Leland Carden, the Rev. Tom Dumser of First Baptist Church, and the Rev. Ricky Graves of First Nazarene Church.

Acting on a directive from his utility board, LES Manager Richard Turner asked the Ministerial Association for assistance.

LES's Board had appropriated $3,454 in December and then in January decided to increase its assistance to up to $12,000 in $3,000 monthly installments.

Marshall County commissioners voted Jan. 26 to appropriate $4,000 toward the LIHEAP system which will match $2 for every $1 contributed locally. LES' appropriations are to be used that way, too.

Lewisburg's five Council members appropriated $4,500 each from their discretionary funds to be matched two for one so city residents facing unaffordable utility bills could stay warm this winter.

The ministers advising LES will apparently be able to make recommendations to the electric system on the phone; vouching for an applicant's need, according to Hickey's information from Turner.

A member of the Ministerial Assciation has already been helping LGD's Volunteer Gas Fund.

These steps toward helping families struggling with household bills come as Turner relays information from top TVA officials who predict higher electricity prices for reasons including the cost of cleaning up an ash spill in East Tennessee.