Jacksonville area residents who have fallen behind on their energy bill but do not qualify for low income assistance, can still get help to reduce or even eliminate that balance.
Ameren Illinois has partnered with the non-profit organization Warm Neighbors Cool Friends, to help customers with “moderate incomes” with their new Fresh Start Program.
Warm Neighbors Cool Friends Executive Director Susan Sams says moderate income customers that are the target of the Fresh Start Program, generally are not used to qualifying for assistance, even when times get tough.
“Most people don’t realize the program exists, they don’t realize they qualify, I mean these are people who have worked hard their whole lives and didn’t know there were programs like this. A lot of people have grandparents that they can relate, they either believe that somebody else needs the money worse than they do or they go without food and medicine, or they cut their medicine in half to be able to pay their bills.”
Sams says more funding is available this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She says the Fresh Start Program is not one size fits all as parameters for qualifying are based on both income and the number of people in the home.
“For one person in the home the 30 day gross household income can range between $2,127.00 to $3,722.00. Generally that’s seniors who have Social Security and a small pension. A family of four can range between $4,367.00 to $7,642.00.
So it’s generally people who have never qualified for help before, they don’t qualify for the low income program through the government, and we always try to target moderate income people who can’t get help anyplace else. But now we actually have an extra pot of money for Fresh Start funding to really be able to help customers get caught up on a past due bill, and help them going into the winter.”
Warm Neighbors Cool Friends partners with local agencies to help connect with Ameren Illinois customers who may need assistance and yet do not qualify for low income assistance through LIHEAP. Customers can call the partner agency in their area to find out if they can qualify for either program in one stop.
Sams says there are several instances of past recipients of assistance who now donate to the program to help. She says since partnering with Ameren in 2011, Warm Neighbors Cool Friends can now make sure every dollar donated go toward helping others.
“We are a 501(c)(3) not for profit and one of our claims to fame is that Ameren makes an annual charitable trust contribution that covers all administrative costs, so we are one of the very few not for profits that can say that every penny that is donated to the program goes to customers in need.”
Sams says in Jacksonville, the partner agency for applying for the Fresh Start Program is the Salvation Army. She says call the Salvation Army citadel at 217-245-7124 to find out if you qualify. To find the local partner agency near you, Sams says go to their website at warmneighborscoolfriends.org and you can search by zip code to find the agency nearest your address for assistance.