Utility assistance funds available

Mindy Ragan Wood, The Norman Transcript, Okla.
·3 min read

Feb. 20—As millions of Americans in 46 states grapple with the aftermath of record-setting subzero temperatures, organizations are lending a hand to pay for high utility bills.

While the City of Norman has been offering funds for utility and rent assistance, the funds are earmarked for COVID-19-related income loss, and have been temporarily depleted.

Those dollars will refund sometime in early March, city officials told The Transcript this week. The funds are paid through the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act disbursements.

The Salvation Army of Norman has a fund to assist those who experience an emergency water or power bill, Director of Social Services Leona Chapman said Friday.

"There does have to be an emergency, and of course with bills going to be higher this month, that's going to be a lot of the emergency as people who are used to paying a $100 bill are going to be paying $200," she said.

Those who apply will have to show their income and expenses, in addition to proof of identification and a copy of the bill. The fund is available all year around, Chapman said, but is already low for the month of February. Funds will be replenished in March, when many people will receive those higher bills, she said.

People who are not in need can donate to the fund when paying their gas and electric bills.

"We are the agency that the utility companies choose to give their assistance money to," she said. "The money we have is called 'Share the Warmth' and 'Lend a Hand.' Those are from the ONG and OG&E. Utility companies will refer people back to us. If customers call them and say, 'I can't pay my bill,' they'll tell them to call Salvation Army."

Food and Shelter is also offering assistance for utilities through its Emergency Solutions Grant fund.

"Residents have to have a cut-off notice showing imminent cut-off for bills to qualify and also those in need have to meet certain income guidelines," said Food and Shelter Executive Director April Heiple. "Those in need can contact Food and Shelter for an eligibility screening."

Heiple requested that inquiries be made by phone to 405-360-4954, because staff and volunteers are assisting people by phone and email.

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) offers assistance through its Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The federally-funded program pays for two programs: one for emergency needs, and for regular needs.

Regular Energy Assistance Program (REAP) is a non-crisis assistance that helps Oklahomans pay one payment per federal fiscal year to their primary fuel source heating bills between November and January, and/or one payment per federal fiscal year to primary fuel source cooling bills between June and August, DHS' website reads.

Those in need can apply online at okdhslive.org; income verification may be required.

Energy Crisis Assistance Program (ECAP) is a program only available between March and May to assist Oklahomans in establishing new service, restoring or preventing service interruption and initiating fuel delivery. During the ECAP open enrollment period, applications are accepted online at okdhslive.org.

Mindy Wood covers City Hall news and notable court cases for The Transcript. Reach her at mwood@normantranscript.com or 405-416-4420.