After a formal request from Georgia Watch, the Public Service Commission voted unanimously last month to release $5 million from a special fund to help seniors and low-income customers pay their natural gas bills in the wake of extreme weather conditions.
Four million dollars will be credited to qualifying low-income seniors on the Atlanta Gas Light distribution system. The money will show up as a line item credit on gas bills. The Salvation Army will receive the remaining funds and open the application process to all low-income AGL customers, regardless of age.
According to the PSC’s order, individual credits in all cases are not to exceed $300.
“We applaud the PSC for acting quickly to address a situation that has reached emergency levels,” said Georgia Watch executive director Angela Speir Phelps, a former public service commissioner herself. “The recession has hit consumers hard and record-low temperatures are exacerbating an already dire situation.”
The $5 million will be disbursed from the PSC’s Universal Service Fund (USF), one of the purposes of which is to assist low-income residential consumers in times of emergency. As of December 2010, the USF balance was approximately $30 million.
The new funds will supplement the state’s rapidly dwindling resources from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a federal program created to help residents pay utility bills during the warmest and coldest months.
Many community groups tasked with distributing LIHEAP funds are reporting exceptionally high demand as a result of the record-low temperatures. Earlier this month, Fulton Atlanta Community Action Authority was forced to stop accepting new LIHEAP applications due to exhaustion of funds. Joyce Dorsey, CEO of the Fulton agency, has stated that recent demand for financial aid is the worst she’s seen in 20 years.
It’s awfully cold out there and this $5 million will make a real difference in helping residents keep their heat on,”said Speir Phelps.
For more information on LIHEAP, check the Public Service Commission’s website at www.psc.state.ga.us, as well as www.liheap.org.