The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

May 7, 2009

Project Heat can help with utility bill

Project Heat, a utility assistance program instituted in the early 1980s, continues help individuals and families with medical problems.

Former Council on Aging director Helen Carter said that Project Heat is a year-round program with funding coming from a check-off on local utility bills.

The program remains low profile and each applicant must go through an extensive screening before being granted assistance, Carter said.

“We came up with the name ‘Project Heat’ during a Council on Aging Board meeting,” said Carter. “We learned that there were some folks who were having to make the decision each month on whether to pay their utility bills or buy their medications.”

Carter said the idea was pitched to then-mayor Dewitt Garrett.

“Mayor Dewitt Garrett was very cooperative and Athens Utilities has always been very cooperative,” said Carter.

Carter said that at one time the Utilities payment office had a large piggy bank in its lobby to advertise the program.

“There are people who have donated to Project Heat since day-one,” said Carter.

She said that applicants are screened “more than they realize.”

The prerequisite established 30 years ago was that applicants be suffering some medical condition or ailment that made paying utility bills difficult. Payments are limited to once a year per applicant and $200 each time, Carter said.

Applicants may pick up applications at the Department of Human Resources and bring completed applications to the Council on Aging office at the Athens Senior Center, where the Project Heat board collects them and begins screening.

Carter said she has noticed an increase in applications in recent months.

Bill Vaughn, customer service manager at the Utilities, said the program remains viable and the Utilities regularly turns over a check for funds collected from the check-off.

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