Entergy ramps up awareness of assistance programs

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 9, 2010

Despite lower electric rates for the first quarter of the new year, Entergy Mississippi still predicts a chunk of its customer base will need assistance paying bills.

About 25 percent of the utility’s ratepayers in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas receive government assistance to survive, Entergy said in a release Friday highlighting programs aimed at defraying energy bills for low-income residents.

The four states in Entergy’s service area ranked in the top nine in statewide poverty rates in the Census Bureau’s annual poverty and income report for 2009, with Mississippi rating highest in individuals making below 125 percent of the $22,025 federal poverty rate for a family of four.

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Federal programs and others funded by Entergy customers are being encouraged through the winter, even as smaller fuel adjustment charges will shrink rates through March by 11 percent compared to the same period last year.

“We encourage customers to contact us or charitable nonprofit agencies in their communities that have programs to help with energy bills as soon as they think they could have a problem paying their electricity bills,” Entergy’s Vicksburg-based spokesman Don Arnold said.

Freezing temperatures to last through this weekend and financial strains have added to the usual winter activity at community action agencies in the region.

“There’s been an increase with the economy, more people without jobs and the cold weather we’re having,” said Reba Causey, case manager with the Warren Washington Issaquena Sharkey Community Action Agency’s office in Vicksburg.

WWISCAA helps process applicants for the federally funded Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides money for those needing help paying energy-related expenses. Household annual income must be at or below 150 percent of the poverty level, with all energy costs documented, to qualify. The agency also helps to qualify mainly low-income or disabled residents for the Weatherization Assistance Program, in which homes are improved to become more energy-efficient.

Up to $500,000 is contributed annually by Entergy employees and ratepayers to the utility’s Power to Care fund, administered by The Salvation Army. A box on monthly bills can be checked to donate $1.

This week, Entergy said typical residential usage of 1,000 kilowatt hours a month should translate into a $79.50 bill, nearly $10 less than the first quarter of 2009. Entergy cited stability in the price of natural gas. The commodity stood at $5.69 per 1,000 cubic feet Friday.

Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at dbarrett@vicksburgpost.com