SOURCE: Duke EnergyDESCRIPTION:
Carol Hardison wants people in need to know they don’t have to wait to get help paying utility bills.
Hardison’s agency, Crisis Assistance Ministry, has an extra $1.2 million in special federal funding to help Mecklenburg County, N.C., residents pay their utility bills through June 26. An applicant does not need to have a disconnect notice to receive assistance as they normally would.
“It’s really important to make people aware that help is available,” said Hardison, Crisis Assistance Ministry chief executive officer.
The funding is part of the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and customers must apply by June 26 so applications can be processed before the funds expire on June 30 at the end of the county’s fiscal year. Hardison said they will still be able to help those in need after the funding expires with money from fundraising but would like to help as many people as possible with the federal money.
In North Carolina, more than 145,000 Duke Energy customers were more than 60 days behind in making payments at the end of May. Rising summer temperatures could cause even more hardship for those who are behind.
Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas have a longstanding partnership with Crisis Assistance Ministry through Share the Warmth, which provides utility assistance yearround. They have also donated $27,000 to Crisis Assistance Ministry as part of their overall pandemic relief efforts, which total more than $6 million in giving in the seven states they serve. On March 13, the companies announced they would not disconnect service to those who could not pay their electric or natural gas bills during the pandemic.
Since then, the companies and Crisis Assistance Ministry have encouraged customers to pay what they can to avoid unmanageable balances when the pandemic ends. For those who cannot, Crisis Assistance Ministry wants to help. The organization has extended its hours with more staff available until 7 p.m. on weeknights and from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturdays in June.
Hardison said the organization has called more than 1,000 households who expressed need to invite them to apply, reached out to churches who have broadcasted the availability over Zoom services, and put fliers in hundreds of food boxes delivered at food pantry curbside pickups.
For the first two months of the pandemic, Crisis Assistance Ministry spent $700,000 of its previously raised funds to help more than 1,300 families facing eviction from hotels. When the stay-at-home order was enacted, the requests poured in at a rate her team had never seen. Within days, they built a process to help prevent hotel evictions and worked seven days a week to do what they could.
Now, with the hotel eviction crisis at a manageable level, the team’s full attention is on utility assistance, and she’s proud that they’re just as enthusiastic to help as ever.
“We’ve returned to our mission,” she said. “I want people to know that we’re here.”
Apply for assistance
Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Crisis Assistance Ministry are encouraging residential customers facing financial hardship to apply for the more than $1 million in special utility assistance funds available through Crisis Assistance Ministry.
The federal funds are available to Mecklenburg County residents who apply by June 26. You can apply online at www.crisisassistance.org/applynow or use the curbside application pick-up and drop-off at 500-A Spratt St., Charlotte, NC.
For those who don’t live in Mecklenburg County, find organizations in your area who can help here: https://liheapch.acf.hhs.gov/help.
KEYWORDS: Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, utility assistance, fuel assistance