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Mid-Missouri organization offering short and long term energy assistance for low-income families

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

As winter starts and temperatures drop in Mid-Missouri, a social services agency is hoping not only to help people with their bills but with energy efficiency.

Central Missouri Community Action (CMCA) offers Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding through the state for people below 135 percent of the federal poverty level.

Colita Harvey, a program officer for CMCA, said the need has grown exponentially because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"COVID has rocked the world so to speak," Harvey said. "Families don't have the income, the money, or ways to make money in order to take care of their basic needs."

She said once Columbia restarted discontinuing services for those who were not able to pay, there has been an influx of applications.

Harvey said the program helps hundreds of people across eight Mid-Missouri Counties every year.

CMCA uses the LIHEAP funding along with some other sources to pay families' energy bills, while they have the funds available. Harvey said her program is more like a "quick fix" to get people out of a crisis situation.

But CMCA is looking at solving issues for families and individuals long term by making homes more energy-efficient through a program called weatherization.

"They are able to assist families long term, versus just getting energy assistance which is like a quick fix to help you with the crisis right now," Harvey said.

 The Weatherization Program Manager John Cokendolpher said once a family is approved, an auditor will go in and check for common issues that lead to high utility bills like windows, cracks and other problems.

He said it can save a family around $250-$300 per year.

"If someone is in a house and the energy bills are high, we can come in and do some weatherization measures that make the house more affordable that may be able to help them stay in that house for a longer-term, which would be a good thing," Cokendolpher said.

This year, the pandemic reduced the amount of house CMCA worked on. Cokendolpher said this year about 60 houses were weatherized, and next year the goal is to get that up to about 160.

Cokendolpher said more people than ever qualify for the program because of the financial crisis brought by COVID, but they have actually seen a decrease in requests. To qualify, a family or individual must make less than 200 percent of the poverty level.

"Part of that, we are assuming, is fear of having strangers into your house," Cokendolpher said. "We geared up for a dramatic increase and we are ready."

The crews that evaluate homes are required to wear masks and go through several screenings prior to entering homes.

Cokendolpher also said there has been increased funding for the program through the government during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The pandemic has highlighted the need of low-income people getting this type of assistance," Cokendolpher said.

The applications and more information about both programs can be found on CMCA's website.

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Connor Hirsch

Connor Hirsch reports for the weekday night shows, as well as Sunday nights.

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