County has winter energy assistance options

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

OACAC offers applications for low-income households through March 31

More area residents may require assistance with their heating bills as the winter months progress with harsher temperatures.

The Springfield-based Ozarks Area Community Action Corporation, which serves 10 southwest Missouri counties that includes Barry County, offers the Winter Heating Energy Assistance Program and the Winter Energy Crisis Intervention Program.

Energy Assistance assists its customers with their utility bills, but it is all determined by income and household size, said Tommie Trammell, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program director for OACAC. It does not require a 
shut-off notice.

The Energy Crisis Intervention Program is for people in crisis who have received a shutoff notice and have been terminated of their utilities,.

"We negotiate with the vendors to get them back on or keep them from being terminated," she said.

Everybody must first apply for Energy Assistance before the Energy Crisis Intervention Program, Trammell said.

Eligible households can get an application through March 31 by visiting oacac-caa.org/oacac/content/energy-programs or calling 417-864-3460.

"Once they are determined eligible, that application is good for a full year," Trammell said.

She has seen propane prices range between $1.75 and $2.25 per gallon over the 10 counties that OACAC covers. Last winter, propane reached between $5 and $7 per gallon.

"[That price range] lasted about three weeks, but we were still able to take care of our people," Trammell said.

People statewide received supplemental payments last year with energy assistance to help them with their propane bills, she said.

The Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division reviewed approximately 250 complaints from Missouri consumers regarding propane prices and interviewed about 80 consumers, according to a June 10 release from Attorney General Chris Koster's office. Many of the complaints involved retailers failing to honor pre-purchased price contracts or adding rush delivery fees to customer orders. Koster has recovered more than $3,000 for Missouri propane consumers and continues to mediate with propane retailers on the remaining consumer complaints. More than 200,000 households in Missouri rely on propane as their primary residential heating fuel, placing Missouri 12th in the nation in propane consumption.

"While our investigation concludes that market forces drove higher propane prices, we are still actively responding to complaints from Missouri propane consumers on a case-by-case basis," Koster said. "My office will continue to examine each circumstance to determine if propane suppliers violated Missouri consumer protection laws during this period of price instability."

According to a Oct. 8 release from the Missouri Propane Education and Research Council, four different events converged last year to impact costs and availability: grain drying, infrastructure bottlenecks, record demand for home heating and the onset of propane exports.

"I am asked all the time about potential price increases this winter," said Steve Ahrens, MOPERC president. "Those who have a full tank and sufficient confirmed supply obviously won't see any increase at all. It may be surprising, but that's the same experience many pre-buy customers had last year.

"Not everyone saw higher prices -- a great many customers had absolutely no increases or service delays because they'd planned ahead. Locking in your supply early takes all the drama and uncertainty out of this."

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