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More families seek home heating help

POSTED: January 20, 2010 4:00 a.m.

While the snow from Dawsonville’s recent storm has melted away, the cold weather will be around for a few more months.

  

The unseasonably long stretch of arctic air, combined with the struggling economy, has forced more people to seek help heating their homes.

  

“So far this winter we’ve served 238 families in Dawson County,” said Alice Williamson, the local representative for Ninth District Opportunity, an agency that serves low-income families in North Georgia.

  

Williams said the phones at her office haven’t stopped ringing for several weeks.

  

“We have between 75 to 100 more appointments scheduled with people still trying to get help,” she said. “That’s about twice as many as we served last year. There are just so many people needing help this year.”

  

Through a federally funded program, households can qualify to receive a one-time payment of up to $350 toward heating their homes.

  

Williamson said as of the first week of January those dollars allocated for Dawson County had been distributed.

  

“We had families apply this year that have never needed assistance in the past,” she said.

  

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the release of over $21 million last week to help low income Georgians with heating bills.

  

“The release of these funds will assist those in Georgia who may not be in the position to afford heating during these cold winter months,” said Kathlene Sebelius, health and human services secretary. “More low income families will now have the chance to use their income for other necessities.”

  

There are other options available in the community for families in need of heating help.

  

The Dawson County Sheriff’s Office offers free firewood to the elderly each winter.

  

“We have so many seniors that burn wood as their only heating source,” said Margie Weaver, director of the Dawson County Senior Center, which administers the program.

  

The county’s road department collects the wood from fallen trees or from county land that has been cleared.

  

It is then cut and split by inmate labor before being delivered to the residents.

  

“Luckily this year, we haven’t had to purchase any wood to take out to our seniors,” Weaver said, “Even though we’ve had more people contact us this year looking for help.”

  

Local power companies can also offer assistance if members see themselves falling behind in paying their bills.

  

“We’re able to offer up to four payment extensions in a year,” said Cindy Badgett, a spokeswoman for Sawnee EMC, which serves more than 5,000 homes in the county.

  

While most electric companies will not shut off power if the temperature is below freezing, Badgett said it is still a good idea to contact the provider as soon as they see there may be a problem paying a bill.

  

“We try to encourage them not to wait until the last minute out of fear to start looking for that help,” she said.

 

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