LMUD's energy assistance plan still available
The special meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 11.
“We found that trying to do the program very simply has resulted in a sort of entitlement program,” said LMUD General Manager Frank Cady. “Where people who shouldn’t be relying on it and could do other things tend to use the program to their benefit and rely on it. While there are definitely people who do need the help, there are others using the program who aren’t engaging in the conservation effort that they should.”
Cady said this is exhausting the funding of the program faster than their budget can keep up.
The biggest concern of LMUD staff now is how to curb the rapid spending of the program’s funding, according to LMUD energy services and compliance specialist Theresa Boucher.
She said the program has always allocated the same amount of money, and this is the first year it has been expended ahead of schedule.
“What happened was that we budgeted $270,000 for energy crisis assistance for our fiscal year of 06/07,” Boucher said. “That was expended by April of this year. Our total public benefits budget is a little over $500,000. That’s the lion’s share of the money, but it was still spent before the next fiscal year.”
“We looked at the program and thought, how are we going to stretch this money to make it go further so that we don’t get into the situation where we have to turn people away?” Boucher said.
While the program was still able to help around 2,000 households in Lassen County, she said the utility has taken the program back to the drawing board and has tried to come up with more effective uses of the limited funding.
Boucher said one of the reasons why the funding was exhausted so quickly in the last fiscal year was because some of the qualified customers receiving money weren’t being energy conscious.
Westwood resident Bill Castor has been concerned with the lack of funding from the program since it ran out in April.
Castor, who lives on a fixed income, said he is one of the people on the program in need of the assistance the program provides.
“I live on about $900 a month,” Castor said. “My rent’s about $350 and with my bills and utilities, I need the help and an explanation.”
Energy assistance customers are allocated money based on income factors, but Boucher said people leaving all their lights on and using as much electricity as possible can ruin the program for those who really need it.
Boucher speculated another reason some were not lowering their bill because they couldn’t afford natural gas or propane, forcing them to plug in electric heaters.
One of the changes to the 2007/2008 fiscal budget of the program involves the teaching of energy conservation techniques to those who qualify for the financial aid provided by the program.
She said nowadays, people qualifying for the energy assistance program would receive such benefits as energy efficiency counseling and efficiency kits, which include energy efficient light bulbs, sealing gaskets and other tools to help reduce overall power consumption.
Boucher said the counseling would involve one of LMUD’s energy experts sitting down with customers and teaching them techniques to lower their monthly bill.
She explained that’s similar to something LMUD has done with Crossroads Ministries clients in past years.
“Crossroads was giving assistance to some of its clients, but before they qualified for that, they had to attend one of LMUD’s energy assistance classes,” Boucher said.
Boucher said they are still trying to work the final bugs out of the updated program, but she and the rest of the utility are looking forward to a better-organized program.
“We do have a number of needy people out there who are waiting for it,” said Cady.
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