The Mississippi County Equal Opportunity Commission began its summer utility bill assistance program this week. The federally funded program assists residents who are having trouble paying their utility bills over the summer months. There is a similar program to help with heating bills in the winter months.
"The program is designed to assist families who are struggling to make ends meet," said EOC executive director Sam Scruggs.
There are two programs for which residents can apply. One is for regular assistance in meeting the monthly bills. The benefit amount will not be determined by the amount of the bill but by the applicant's income situation.
Another is designed for crisis situations. In a crisis situation, a resident must provide a "shut-off notice" along with the regular application. If the resident qualifies, the EOC will send a one-time payment to the utility company for the exact amount needed to prevent the shut-off. Residents can qualify for a one-time payment of up to $700 under the crisis program. While this program does have basic income qualifications, if the applicant qualifies, the benefit amount is not based on the applicant's income but rather the bill amount.
Benefits to qualified residents are handed out on a first-come, first-served basis. For the regular assistance program, assistance can take up to 30 days depending on the demand while the crisis assistance is usually taken care of within 24 to 48 hours.
Residents needing assistance can apply at the EOC location on Division in Blytheville Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m. The program will run through September or until funds are no longer available.
While Scruggs doesn't see any concern for funds drying up before the end of September he does say has seen a greater demand for the program over the past few years.
"With the economic downturn, more and more people are needing assistance because of lost jobs," said Scruggs. "We've assisted people recently that we've never we haven't seen before."
Scruggs also recommends that residents be patient and use caution when traveling to the EOC building to apply.
"Because it's a first come, first served program, we see most people coming to apply in the first 10 to 15 days of the program. Be careful and don't come out too early in the morning when we're not available to serve you. It gets very hot very early this time of year. We don't want people waiting around in the heat before we open our doors. That can lead to other serious issues."