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Home heating help is back
Federal funding drought had limited aid for low-income residents
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Ninth District Opportunity Inc.

The Low Income Energy Assistance Program is open to all income-eligible households starting 9 a.m. Jan. 23. To apply for one-time payments to be made to energy suppliers call 770-534-8826. When applying for assistance, residents will be required to present verification of all household income received within the past 30 days, verification of Social Security numbers for everyone in the home and the most recent home heating bill.

Action Ministries-Gainesville
For assistance or information from this nonprofit, call 770-531-1440.

In an announcement likely to warm hearts and homes, the Ninth District Opportunity Inc. signaled it will resume its heating assistance program for low-income residents later this month.

The nonprofit, which has offered a one-time payment of heating costs for decades, had to postpone its Dec. 1, 2011, launch date due to what appeared to be lack of funds from the federal government.

The program relies primarily on federal grants.

With the federal budget passing, more money than originally anticipated was allocated back to the program through the Georgia Department of Human Services, said Shawn Howell, a program manager for Ninth District Opportunity.

"It's not as much as last year," Howell said. "But It's enough to open the program."

Beginning at 9 a.m. Jan. 23, eligible households can begin applying for heating bill assistance. Eligibility is based on the income of everyone living in the residence.

After temperatures dipped far below freezing several nights last week, the program's renewal is likely welcome news for those who have relied on it in the past.

It will also take some pressure off other nonprofits that offer similar services in Hall County.

Action Ministries of Gainesville, a faith-based organization that offers temporary utility bill and rental payments for the needy, has seen a spike its requests for bill assistance.

The Rev. Steve Napier, director of Action Ministries, said in 2010 the organization fielded about 3,100 calls for utility assistance; in 2011, it was up to 3,600.

Napier said that "at least in the short term" Ninth District Opportunity's funding should ease the call volume for his program.

Rather than simply paying bills, Action Ministries also takes a holistic approach when it helps residents. It offers clients programs like job assistance and food assistance, which keep the organization busy even after the winter months.

Even with the money coming through, it's unclear if it will be enough to meet demand.

In 2010-2011 winter, the nonprofit paid out nearly $4.7 million in heating assistance to 13,000 households in a multi-county area, backed primarily from the government funds.

This year there is about $2.5 million, Howell said.

"It will be like we usually do at Dec. 1," he said. "We'll take calls and eventually go on a waiting list."

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