EOA can't offer relief from the heat

By Tim Guidera - bio | email

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) –  In the past, the Economic Opportunity Authority has been able to help people put in similar situations by utility bills that rise with the heat. Just a few months ago, the organization was able to distribute more than $1 million to 8,500 Chatham County families struggling with heating bills through its winter assistance program.

Myra Lyles came to the right place at the wrong time.

"Well, me and my family unfortunately are behind in our rent and our electric bill,'' said Lyles, who lives in Savannah. "So we're sweating and about to be put out.''

But because the EOA did not receive its latest seasonal grant from the state, they cannot offer relief from the hot, unrelenting Savannah summer.

"No, we did not get funded for a summer program,'' said EOA Energy Director Theodosia Johnston. "We've had several people come in and request a service. But not having it the only thing we can offer is to call the utility companies and try to prevail upon them the importance of the people having that current and try to get them to work with the applicant.''

Add in an economy that continues to contribute to families financial difficulties and this has been an especially busy season at the EOA.

In fact, just this morning there were six people here looking for assistance. And that does not include an increasing number of phone calls to the authority every day.

"It's a greater number,'' Johnston says of the inquiries the authority has been receiving this summer. "I don't know that I can give you a percentage or a designated number, but it's a whole lot of people, more than we've seen in years past.''

And that only adds to the growing sense of helplessness on both sides of the desk at the EOA.

"It's very frustrating,'' says Johnston. "We hate to disappoint people, particularly when we know there's a need. It's very disheartening to have to tell a person we can't help you or we don't have that money that you need.''

And it's no easier to hear for those in need.

"It's very important that you have these kinds of emergency services, because you never know when you're going to be in that predicament,'' said Lyles, who might actually qualify for money from a different EOA fund because she is unemployed. "So the government needs to cough up that money and get it down here pronto.''

More likely, people looking for help with their utility bills in Chatham County will have to wait until winter.

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