Energy assistance contributions over regionally-set goal

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Individuals and institutions in Marshall County have contributed nearly twice the amount needed to obtain matching money set aside from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

LIHEAP provides federally funded assistance to pay gas, electric, propane and other heating and cooling energy costs for people receiving unemployment insurance payments and other safety-net benefits.

"Marshall County is my shining star," says Cathy Hayes, community services program director for the South Central Human Resources Agency. It's headquartered in Fayetteville.

The local office at 1572 Old Columbia Road is where area residents can sign up for a one-time payment of a few hundred dollars, depending on circumstances.

The agency serves 13 counties from Perry to Franklin County. Of those, Marshall and Moore counties are the only two where donations exceeded a mathematical allotment.

Hayes set that amount in December when Gov. Phil Bredesen announced that a federal appropriation of LIHEAP money had been broken into two parts. The larger portion was available for direct help. The other amount was a matching fund.

Local utilities, charities and individuals were asked to chip in $1 for every $2 available from the allocation that was $20,729 for Marshall County. That's out of some $5 million made available through the Tennessee Department of Human Services for the two-for-one match.

The matching program challenged local leaders of all walks of life to contribute $10,364 toward the matching money available for Marshall County. That was to obtain $20,729 in additional help.

However, Hayes divided the amount her agency received from DHS based on population and other distribution formulas, she said. The only limit on how much might be matched here was the amount DHS gave to the South Central Human Resources Agency for its 13-county service area. If leaders in other counties don't raise enough to meet their matching allocation, then what's left can be distributed elsewhere - places like Marshall County and Moore County where donations exceeded the mathematical allocation.

An unofficial tabulation of money made available to access the $2 for $1 match indicates about $20,700 has been contributed in Marshall County. That's about twice the allocation of $10,365 to leverage the $20,729 in federal funding. Funds raised locally would, therefore, obtain $41,400 in federal money to provide a total of $62,100. It's a matching effort unequalled in the 13-county service area of the Human Resource Agency, Hayes said.

"As long as we have money in our leveraging fund," Hayes said, "we will make more money available. I don't want to give money back. So, it will be spent."

The largest single contributions have been from the Marshall County Commission at $4,000, but there were two such appropriations: one in January; the other in February.

Duck River Electric Membership Corp. has provided $3,750. Lewisburg's five councilmen sent $500 each to the Lewisburg Electric System to help city residents and the electric system's Board of Directors appropriated $3,454 to start its matching effort and pledged up to $3,000 per month for four months depending on need.

Together those amounts total $20,704.

"They have definitely leveraged more" than what had been set aside through the distribution based on population, Hayes said.

Marshall County seemed entitled to about 6.4 percent of the amount provided to Hayes' agency from DHS, she said. That's the percentage of population Marshall County has in the 13-county area.

With the preponderance of this county's population in Lewisburg, Hayes noted that "We are using money from LES to leverage federal money when the client qualifies."

Of the individuals and institutions making contribution, Hayes said, "They are doing more than I had hoped. There's only one other county that's exceeded its allocation."

That's Moore County, which has a small population.

Because it's so small, Duck River Electric Membership Corp. paid $1,401, Hayes said.

"And then a ladies' group did a lunch with sandwiches and a drink," Hayes said.

That event raised $386, thereby increasing the locally amount raised to $1,787 which is $36 more than the alloction for Moore County, Hayes said.

The success of the matching effort in Marshall County has prompted county leaders to re-examine the need for another contribution.

"Cathy (Hayes) has recommended that we hold up on a contribution in March to see if there are more matching funds," County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett said. "She will pretty well know in the first part of April if there will be more."