Some Region 8 families make difficult choice between heating and hunger

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – For years, thousands of people across the Region 8 viewing area have applied for financial assistance to pay utility bills during the winter. Once again, officials with the Crowley's Ridge Development Council will take in thousands of applications for the upcoming cold season.

With temperatures expected to drop next week, it seems like a perfect time to take applications for home heating assistance. Jackie Burns, Manager of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, told Region 8 News Friday she expects more people to file this year than in 2011, partly due to a weak economy.

"In the last couple of years, because of the way of the economy, we've seen quite a few new people that have never used us before. Some have never even heard of us before because they've not been in that situation," said Burns.

According to statistics provided to Region 8 News, 8,132 families applied for regular assistance during the 2011 winter. Of those who applied, 7,254 were approved. There were also 2,668 families who were approved for Crisis Intervention assistance.

Crisis Intervention assistance is offered to families who are in immediate danger of losing utilities due to a failure of payment. Burns said the regular assistance program begins Monday, January 9th.

Regular assistance will be offered until the end of March, Burns said.

"It's very important. We have seen families that would do without food or they would do without medication, especially your elderly. They would do without medication and food just to get their utilities paid. Then once they run out of that, they have nowhere else to go," said Burns. "They have to make a choice, and that's why we're here to keep them from having to do that."

After a family applies for assistance, they will have to wait 35 days for the application to be processed and a payment to be made upon approval.

"It's just a portion. It won't pay your full bill. It's just a portion to the vendor and so they need to continue to try to make arrangements to pay those bills," said Burns.

Friday, employees with CRDC were busy mailing applications to elderly individuals and those who are handicapped. Burns said this year alone, they've mailed out 1,300 more applications compared to last year. She said applications are only mailed to individuals on food stamps.

"Last year, we sent out around 8,000. This year, we sent out 9,300. Even that has just grown," said Burns. "We anticipate a much larger number for the people who come into the counties we serve."

For more on assistance programs offered by CRDC, visit their website by clicking here.

"They need to bring the previous month's income for everyone in the household that's 18 or over. This is January, so we would need their December check stubs. If they got unemployment, if they got child support, utility assistance through HUD, anything that they receive, they need to bring it in," said Burns. "They can come to the local office that's in their county. You have to apply within your county. Go to the local office and they will give you all the information that you need."

Applications will be accepted on Mondays and Wednesdays at the Craighead County office at 2401 Fox Meadow in Jonesboro, Crittenden County office at 111 East Jackson in West Memphis, Jackson County office at 2000 McClain Street in Newport and St. Francis County office at 1343 South Washington in Forrest City.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, applications can be accepted at the Cross County office at 1304 South Falls Boulevard in Wynne, Greene County office at 144 Linwood in Paragould, Poinsett County office at 200 Industrial in Marked Tree and Woodruff County office at 224 Main Street in Augusta.

"Every year it has grown. The last couple of years, we have seen a lot of new people. You're always going to have repeats because they live on fixed incomes so that's normal," said Burns.

For more information on the LIHEAP, call 870-935-8610.

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