Contact: Jane Jankowski
Phone: 317/232-1622

For Immediate Release: Dec 13, 2005
Governor announces Help Thy Neighbor Heating Fund

INDIANAPOLIS (December 13, 2005) ? Governor Mitch Daniels today announced the final steps in Indiana?s overall strategy to prepare for higher winter heating fuel costs. The state is utilizing public and private means to extend help to more Hoosiers, including a program that for the first time will provide assistance to families whose incomes are at 200 percent of the poverty level, and it has identified additional funding for the Energy Assistance program.

?Hoosiers work at being prepared, and we look after our own. Months ago, we could see that this winter could be especially difficult. We determined that we would provide more help for a greater percentage of Hoosiers than ever before, and we are in a position to do that,? said Daniels.

Among strategies, the governor has:

? identified $10 million in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds that may be used, if needed, to assist households eligible for the state?s Energy Assistance Program (EAP). In October, the governor expanded eligibility for the program to include families whose incomes are at a level of 150 percent of poverty (up from 125 percent), and estimated that $5 million to $7 million in additional funds would be needed to help more people.

? established the Help Thy Neighbor Heating Fund, a voluntary charitable fund that will help Hoosiers struggling to pay their heating bills this winter. Families whose incomes are 150 percent to 200 percent of poverty are eligible for help from this fund. The governor has called on fellow Hoosiers to donate to the Help Thy Neighbor program to ensure that the fund reaches as many people who need assistance as possible.

? accepted the first gift for the fund, a $5 million grant from Lilly Endowment. The governor also has reached out to the state?s three gas utilities, NIPSCO (Northern Indiana Public Service Company), Citizens Gas and Vectren, to participate in the Help Thy Neighbor Fund. Ed Simcox, president of the Indiana Energy Association, said the companies will jointly donate a total of $1 million to the fund.

?Thanks to this collective expression of Hoosier generosity, we are prepared whether Washington gets its act together or not,? said the governor. ?If we?ve over prepared, we?ll use what?s left over to reduce the risk level of future winters.?

The state?s Energy Assistance Program (EAP) began to accept applications on November 3. EAP, a Family and Social Services Administration program administered through various community action agencies throughout the state, targets families with incomes at or below 150 percent of poverty who need heating assistance. In the first five weeks, the number of Indiana families receiving assistance is similar to last year; however, bills are higher and more financial help is being requested. To date, 51,690 households have been helped, compared to 49,120 a year ago, but a total of $14.5 million in benefits have been provided. A year ago at this time, the benefits provided were $13.8 million.

Help Thy Neighbor will target Hoosiers whose incomes are between 150 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($29,025-$38,700 for a family of four) who are natural gas customers.

To qualify for assistance from this fund, a customer must have received a disconnect notice from any of the state?s natural gas utilities during the 2005-2006 heating season. When customers receive a disconnect notice, the next step is to contact their utility, which then may qualify them for assistance in the form of a one-time $200 heating bill credit. If the $200 brings a customer current on the bill, the family would be placed on the utility?s budget plan. If the customer still owes on the bill after the $200 credit, the utility would make payment arrangements, which means there would be no disconnection at that time.

Utilities will begin providing assistance to customers through the Help Thy Neighbor program on January 1, 2006, and conclude on May 31.

Help Thy Neighbor funds not used to help Indiana residents pay heating bills can be used to help customers with weatherization assistance. That could prompt the state to be eligible for more federal funding for weatherization.

Hoosiers who wish to donate to Help Thy Neighbor may send their tax-deductible contributions to Help Thy Neighbor Heating Fund, P.O. Box 660265 Indianapolis, IN 46266 or call 1-866-628-1616. For further information on the Help Thy Neighbor Fund, visit the Web site