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In the News:

Cooling assistance money already gone

7:50 AM, Jul 14, 2011

Julie Wolfe



ATLANTA — Long lines are growing all over the U.S. as struggling families wait for utility assistance to help pay high power bills.

There are no such lines in Metro Atlanta. That’s because the money is already gone.

You might remember long lines throughout the region this past winter for LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) money. Now that air conditioning bills are high, The Georgia Department of Human Services says they don’t have any of that federal money left. DHS spokeswoman Ravae Graham tells 11Alive News there has not been HEAP money available for cooling assistance since 2007.

DHS partners with 19 community action agencies to administer the utility assistance. Now that the money is gone for this fiscal year, other non-profits are overwhelmed with requests for help.

The Metro Atlanta Salvation Army says they’re limited by how much money comes into their program. Their energy assistance program is funded the donation box customers check on their bills. The Salvation Army says fewer people have been checking those boxes since the recession started.

United Way’s 211 is still referring people to their database of community help, but they’re getting reports back that fewer of those groups are able to help. United Ways director of media and marketing services, David Graves, says utility assistance is the highest area of help requested, and it’s nearly doubled in recent years. In the 2009-2010 fiscal year, United Way’s 211 hotline took 400,000 phone calls for help. About 65,000 of those were asking for help paying electric bills. That’s up from 49,000 requests for electric bill help the year before.

With utility assistance money drying up, consumer group Georgia Watch says there are a couple of other options. Clare McGuire is in charge of their Energy department. The group advocates on behalf of small business and consumers in front of the Public Service Commission (PSC).

McGuire says if you’ve received high utility bills and are unable to pay, ask for a payment plan. Most utility companies will agree to this at least once. “Just like everyone else, they want to get paid,” McGuire said.

She also suggests you call the Public Service Commission’s Consumer Affairs at (800) 282-5813 or (404) 656-4501. The PSC oversees companies like Georgia Power and can help mediate a solution.

McGuire reminds people to consider budget billing. “It helps customers ‘smooth out’ their bill over the course of a year,” she said. She warns people against joining the Flat Bill program since it includes an “adder” or “markup” and can end up costing consumers more over several years.

The PSC put in place a rule that prevents Georgia Power from disconnecting during times of extreme temperatures. (The PSC does not oversee the EMCs in the state.) But Georgia Watch warns customers should not depend on that safety net since the rule depends on a heat advisory from the National Weather Service. Not all hot days meet the standards to activate the rule.


Georgia Utilities

Atlanta Gas Light
Senior citizens who are 65 years of age or older and have a total annual combined household income of $14,355 or less are eligible for up to a $14 monthly discount on their Atlanta Gas Light Company base charge. Natural gas service must also be in the customer’s name to be eligible. To apply complete the mail-in application. Call 404-657-3426 or 404-657-3427 in Metro Atlanta or 1-800-869-1150 outside Metro Atlanta or visit for more information.

Carroll Electric Membership Corporation -Senior Citizens Discount
Members over the age of 62 may receive a discount of $2.50 per month. To sign up, print an application, get it notarized and mail it or bring it by one of the offices. The application can also be notarized at your local office. Call 770-832-3552 or visit for more information.

Gas South
Offers its customers, aged 65 and older, various senior rates which provide a discount on natural gas consumption charges. Senior customers may also be eligible for discounted customer services charges and up to a $14.00 monthly discount on Atlanta Gas Light base charges. Call 1-877-332-5442 or visit for more information.

Georgia Natural Gas
Customers who are 65 years of age or older with an annual combined gross income per household of 12,000 or less are eligible for a $14.00 monthly discount on their base charge. Call 770-850-6200 or 1-877-850-6200 or visit for more information.

Georgia Power
The monthly base charge ($10.50 for gas and $14.00 for electric) is waived for customers who are at least 65 years old and the total household income is not more than $12,000 annually. Call 1-888-660-5890 [option 8] for more information.

SCANA Energy
Customers who are 65 years of age or older with an annual combined gross income per household of $12,000 or less are eligible for a $14.00 monthly discount on their AGL base charge. Call 1-877-467-2262 or visit for more information.

Snapping Shoals EMC – Senior Citizen-Low Income Assistance
A senior-citizen/low-income discount is available to qualifying members of Snapping Shoals EMC. To qualify you must be at least 65 years of age and your total household income may not be more than $20,000 a year. The discount, which is $7.50 per month, may be applied only to an account serving the principal residence of the qualifying member. The account must be on the regular residential rate, be separately metered and be in the applicant’s name. Call 770-786-3484 for details or visit