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Operation Warm to aid customers with heat bills

By Catherine Godbey · 340-2441

After experiencing 14 days of triple-digit temperatures, the prospect of cooler weather appeals to many North Alabama residents.

But for some, cooler weather doesn’t present a relief but rather a worry. Questions about how to pay the heating bill replace concern about how to keep cool.

For people unable to pay their heating bills, Decatur Utilities, Joe Wheeler Electric Membership Corp., Hartselle Utilities and the Community Action Partnership of North Alabama offer relief.

Operation Warm, introduced two decades ago, amasses funds to help provide heating for residents in Morgan and Lawrence counties.

Private contributions fund Operation Warm. Utility customers can donate a specific amount of money for Operation Warm through their utility companies.

For DU customers the funding is added to monthly electric bills. DU Customer Service Manager Anena Maxwell describes it as a charitable expense.

The Operation Warm program supplements the federally funded Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides assistance for heating and cooling to low-income households.

“We started Operation Warm 20 to 25 years ago to help people who don’t qualify for LIHEAP pay their heating costs,” said Sue Stancil, director of general services for Community Action.

Individuals who fail to qualify for federal funding typically exceed the program’s income limits. Community Action bases its decision about who receives Operation Warm funds on income and necessary expenses, such as medications.

The program runs from Dec. 1 through May 31, during which applicants are eligible for assistance only once. Before allotting funds, Community Action examines documents indicating the applicant’s income.

During the past 10 months, Community Action supplied financial assistance to 110 families from Operation Warm funds.

“There is a tremendous need for utility assistance,” Stancil said. “We usually run out of LIHEAP funding by the end of the grant cycle (Sept. 30).”

According to DU Electric Manager Dan Gibbs, a household that donates $60 a year, supplies an Operation Warm recipient with 900 kilowatt-hours of power, which would run a 1,000-watt space heater for 876 hours.

If not for Operation Warm, people who need assistance either would have to seek aid from another charitable organization or not turn on their heat.

Community Action now has $20,000 available for Operation Warm grants.

How to apply, how to give

To request assistance in paying your heating bill through Operation Warm, call the Community Action Partnership of North Alabama at 355-3803.

If you want to donate to Operation Warm through your utility company, here’s how:

  • Decatur Utilities customers can call 552-1440 and indicate how much money they want added to their bills.

  • Joe Wheeler Electric customers can call 552-2300.

  • Hartselle Utilities provides a box on monthly bills that customers can check indicating that they want to donate.

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