ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BRENDA CONYERS
Gas bills have had a significant effect on Marion County residents, and some citizens have had to look for financial assistance.
“We have had more people come forward than last year,” said Noreen Weems, director of Marion County Department of Elderly. “What is more scary, we have had people who have been eligible for help for a number of years, but they have chosen not to use the assistance funds, saying they felt ‘someone else needs the help more.’
“This year it is those people asking for help because the bills have been so high.”
She reported that one resident kept the thermostat turned down, kept half of her house closed off and still had bills of more than $300 for one month’s usage.
People have been talking about the ways they have cut corners to meet the utility expenses, Weems said, and that has included sacrificing necessary prescriptions and even food.
“Some people are too proud to ask for help and some just don’t like to ask,” she said.
Weems said some folks have been saying: “How well we eat and how well we won’t eat is depending on the bill for the month.”
Retired people on fixed incomes have been hit the hardest by the gas-price increase. Weems said she knows some savings accounts have been depleted, without a way to re-coup the spent money.
“The biggest problem is that even with these assistance programs available, we haven’t resolved anything,” she said. “What are we going to do next fall and winter if prices haven’t changed? We are going to have to see some new programs developed to help.”
Besides the individual gas bills and the problems that go with it, Weems said the senior centers had troubles, as well.
The Ramona Senior Center turned the thermostat down to 55 degrees and had to cancel three meetings due to inclement weather. Weems said a freewill offering is taken at meetings and the center lost that amount in income.
Marion’s center had a month with a bill of $739, with Hillsboro in the $600 range. Peabody’s center saw an $800 bill, which has taken a large part of the winter peppernut fund-raiser money.
Four assistance programs are available to the public. Weems said applications are due March 31.
Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) applications can be picked up from Weems at the Marion Senior Center or from the SRS office in Marion. For information, call 800-432-0043.
Heat Share is a utility bill assistance program through the Salvation Army. For information, call 913-682-6596.
Weems said Gas Assistance Program through the American Red Cross was only for Kansas Gas Service, which covers a few homes in the Marion County area, and is not available to Greeley Gas customers. The information line for GAP is 913-682-6222.
And Project Deserve, another program available through the Red Cross, provides assistance with utility bills for the elderly population.
According to Weems, Project Deserve had already assisted three families in Marion County, and the assigned funds for the county from that program have been exhausted. Project Deserve information line is 913-682-6222.