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EWEB's utility bill assistance expands to help more in need.

Byline: Susan Palmer The Register-Guard

Eugene residents who have fallen on hard times can get a break on their utility bills, thanks to an extensive assistance package put in place this month by the Eugene Water & Electric Board.

Meantime, for those who live outside of Eugene, federal money to help with high winter heating bills is still available.

EWEB's commissioners voted in January to use $4.4 million from reserve funds to help people on a fixed income, and those who have had their hours cut back or been laid off from work. Titled "Community Care," the money has expanded existing assistance programs and created new ones.

"EWEB is taking extraordinary action to help the community cope during tough financial times," General Manager Randy Berggren said in a prepared statement. "As a citizen-owned utility, we felt a strong need and urgency to do what we can to help."

Among the new programs, EWEB has set aside $1 million to aid those who have been receiving federal unemployment assistance since Oct. 1, 2008. A $200 per customer benefit, it will help at least 5,000 customers.

Already existing help for low-income residents will be expanded, as well as crisis aid to avoid power shutoff.

Some money will go toward helping low-income customers weatherize their homes to improve energy efficiency, and small businesses can get help buying energy-efficient lighting.

EWEB also will lend a hand to nonprofit agencies providing housing to the homeless in the form of a $20 per-bed payment. Shelter providers must apply in order to receive the benefit.

The board also promised $30 rebates to all EWEB customers in a vote that sharply divided commissioners, some of whom wanted to target the aid to the people who need it the most.

The rebate is aimed at helping customers who may have had hours or pay reduced, but who aren't unemployed and don't qualify for EWEB's existing low-income programs, according to a utility news release.

Customers who don't need the rebate have the option of donating it to EWEB's low-income assistance programs. A brochure in the next monthly bill will include a tear-off donation postcard that can be mailed or included with the payment.

The federal Low Income Energy Assistance Program, operated by the Lane County Human Services Commission, still has money to help low-income families, said program coordinator Mary Ellen Bennett.

Anticipating increased need because of the failing economy, the government doubled the amount it normally makes available, Bennett said.

But many people, especially those who have recently fallen on hard times, don't realize the money is available, she said.

Those who make 60 percent of Oregon's median income are eligible, regardless of whether they own a home or have other assets.

A household of one person with a gross monthly income of $1,685 or less would qualify. For a household of four people, the gross monthly income must not exceed $3,241.

The federal program makes a one-time payment ranging from $150 to $320 directly into a household's energy utility account and it can go toward electricity, natural gas, oil, propane, wood pellets and wood as sources of heat.


The utility offers several options

Rebate: $30 per residential customer, $2.3 million total

Deposit guarantee: Low-income customers save $45 in deposit costs

Senior assistance: More low-income or disabled senior citizens get conservation education and some debt forgiveness

Crisis funds: Helps customers who don't qualify for other programs avoid shutoff with one-time payments

Job loss: $200 per household for those who don't qualify for other aid and can prove job loss with an unemployment pay stub

Shelter aid: $20 per-bed payment to shelters and temporary housing providers

Weatherization: For homeowners and renters, based on limited income

Small business: Covers upgrades for energy-efficient lighting

Loan deferrals: One-time postponement of loan payment for customers who borrowed from EWEB weatherization or efficiency upgrades

Applications and more information: Visit Those without Internet access can call 484-6016. Applications also are available at the unemployment office.


Offices through the county can help

Senior citizens ages 60 and older: Celeste Campbell Senior Center in Eugene, 682-5354; Willamalane Adult Activity Center in Springfield, 736-4406; Cottage Grove Senior Connections, 682-7810; Florence Senior Connections, 902-9430, ext. 7835; Oakridge Senior Connections, 782-4726; Garcia Service Center in Veneta, 935-2262; Viking Sal Senior Center in Junction City, 998-8445

Non-senior households: St. Vincent de Paul in Eugene, 461-8794; Catholic Community Services in Springfield, 747-8349; Community Sharing in Cottage Grove, 942-6492; Siuslaw Outreach Services in Florence, 997-2816; Upper Willamette CDC in Oakridge, 782-3590

More information: Call 682-FUEL for English or 682-3835 for Spanish.
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Title Annotation:City/Region; The "Community Care" package includes new options for customers
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 16, 2009
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