Meridian, Miss. The extreme cold temperatures that we've experiences so far this year may be gone for now, but their effects linger! Record high utility bills are a problem for many, and a local agency is currently being swamped with requests for help.
"It wore them 3's out, $333.33. I told them that they done wore the 3's out! Took them all!" says Tom Smith of Bailey. He prides himself on paying his bills. However, this time Mr. Smith says that he just can't do it alone.
"There wasn't no way. My water line froze; had to pay for my breaker in the house. It just had me with nothing."
Mr. Smith is just one of the growing number of people seeking help to pay high utility bills. According to officials with Multi-County Community Service Agency, which is based in Meridian, most of the people seeking assistance to pay excessively high bills right now are senior citizens who are on fixed incomes.
"The average bills are between $350 and $400, but they have gone as high as $600," says MCCSA's Community Service Director, Shirley Deville.
MCCSA serves 9 counties. Deville says daily each of those counties receives at least 25 requests for energy assistance.
"We're doing what we can do right now, and pray that the money holds out. Because it's the beginning of the energy program, we don't face a shortage right now of funds. I can't speak to what will happen if this trend continues."
For this year Multi-County Community Service Agency received $1.2 million to provide energy assistance in the 9 counties which it serves. So far, during the first two months of this year, it's estimated that the agency has spent about $250,000 of that money. With the number of requests mounting each day, MCCSA officials are doubtful that the funds allotted for this year will last through December.
"Because we're using more energy, the funds probably will not last as long as they normally would, but we can't worry about that," says Deville. "If a person is in need, rather than having that person's service disconnected, we're paying the bills."
MCCSA serves residents in: Lauderdale, Clarke, Wayne, Kemper, Neshoba, Newton, Scott, Smith and Jasper Counties. To contact someone with the agency call (601) 483- 4838.