PORTAGEVILLE -- In an effort to prevent heat-related deaths this summer, the Delta Area Economic Opportunity Corporation began scheduling appointments for their Energy Crisis Intervention Summer Cooling Program last week.
"This program is about preventing someone from dying," Program Director Shirley Moore said. "I believe this year we've already heard of some deaths in St. Louis because of the heat. A lot of times, the elderly will pay their electric bill before they will buy food or medicine. This is a big problem -- not just here -- but in the rest of the United States, too."
Moore reminds the public that the Summer Cooling Program is strictly an emergency program, and there are requirements that must be met in order to be considered. This program is for electric households only and assists in paying the electric bills of those who meet specific requirements.
First, those seeking assistance must have a shutoff notice from their electric company; however, the elderly, who are first priority, are not required to have a notice. Those confined for medical reasons receive second priority and final priority goes to households with children 5 years old and younger.
"Some people, especially the elderly, won't turn on their air conditioner because they're afraid they won't be able to pay their bill. They won't open their windows because they're afraid someone will break in so they just sit in the heat, and some eventually die," Moore explained.
Moore justified another reason why the elderly are at the top of the program's priority list. She said the elderly people may have trouble physically getting out of their house to get to a cooler place. Younger people are more mobile and can go to another place, she added.
DAEOC has been bombarded with calls from people seeking assistance; however, Moore said it's still too early to determine an exact number of people helped from the cooling program.
"Right now, people are in a lot of need for assistance, especially with the heat increasing," Mississippi County DAEOC Community Resource Developer Melissa Triplett said.
Triplett said calls have been pretty steady and it's too hard to tell if there is an increase between this year's and last year's program.
Lois Dirickson, Scott County DAEOC client service representative, also said her office has received many calls, and they are booked solid with program appointments.
Throughout the year, three other programs are available through DAEOC's Energy Crisis Intervention Program. They are the Winter Heating Program, Dollar More Program and Cool-Aide Program.
The Cool-Aide program consists of DAEOC loaning out air conditioning units in the same priority order as the Summer Cooling Program, except low-income families are first priority. Moore said they have a limited supply of about 300 air conditioning units, and the majority of them have all ready been lent out.
"Our Winter and Summer Energy Crisis Intervention Program has kept a lot of people from freezing to death or dying of a heatstroke," Moore said. "We want to keep doing that."
Moore said there is a limit on the amount of monetary assistance DAEOC provides. DAEOC assists up to the maximum amount of $300. For example, Moore said, if the bill is $150, DAEOC only pays that amount. If the bill is $450, they only pay $300, and it's up to the household to pay the remaining amount.
Moore said: "It's not just a matter of giving money to pay their bills, but it's a matter of need."
Those who qualify for cooling program assistance should contact the DAEOC office in the county where they live for an appointment. DAEOC's service area includes Scott, New Madrid, Dunklin, Pemiscot, Stoddard and Mississippi counties.
Aside from the shutoff notice, a document of proof of age, Social Security cards for every person living in the household and a proof of income for the month prior to DAEOC's assistance are required at appointments.