Harsh winter strains summer utility aid

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – As the summer heat builds, low income Hoosiers are finding out there will be little to no financial assistance for cooling programs across the state unless facing a crisis situation.

The Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA) announced Monday it had scaled back its Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program because most of the program’s funds were spent during the 2013-2014 winter heating season.

Traditionally, participants would receive a one time benefit of $50 toward their cooling bill as part of the program. An average of $350 per household was spent to help with heating during the record-breaking cold and snowy winter. With $47.8 million spent on winter assistance, cooling aid was made unavailable.

The change will affect more than 130,000 households that participate in the program across the state through IHCDA’s partners like Community Action of Greater Indianapolis (CAGI).

“It does go a long way,” Cheryl Shelton with CAGI said of the assistance. “When you’re in that situation and you’re in a crisis and you don’t have air or you don’t have heat, it can be very devastating to you.”

Shelton said the organization has been transparent with its clients while trying to provide suggestions about other resources available.

“Contact your trustee offices. Contact the utility company. Make some arrangements with the utility companies. See if you can come up with some type of payment plan,” Shelton said.

A limited amount of help will be offered for people in what IHCDA considers a crisis.

If someone has received a disconnection notice from their utility, they may be eligible for a one-time benefit of $200. A small number of new air conditioner units will be available for those providing evidence of a medical necessity.

Word of the otherwise diminished assistance spread in Indianapolis neighborhoods on Tuesday. Resident Clifford Bowers said he anticipated a harsher summer felt by friends and family.

“It’s going to hurt a lot of people because it’s going to be brutal; I believe it’s going to be real hot this summer,” Bowers said. “I wish they could start [the program] back.”

One low-cost, do-it-yourself cooling method featured in a video posted on YouTube has been played close to 5 million times. Watch here to learn how to build a “5 Gallon Bucket Air Cooler.”

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