Former Gov. Mitch Daniels' Newsroom

Contact: Jane Jankowski
Phone: 317/232-1622

For Immediate Release: Oct 18, 2006
Help Thy Neighbor program begins second year; energy assistance eligibility extended

INDIANAPOLIS (October 18, 2006) - More Hoosiers will receive help with winter heating fuel costs this winter from the state's Energy Assistance Program and Governor Mitch Daniels' Help Thy Neighbor Heating Fund.

For the second straight year, energy assistance eligibility will be extended to include families whose incomes are at or below a level of 150 percent of the official poverty line. Also for the second year, the state's three largest gas utilities, NIPSCO (Northern Indiana Public Service Company), Citizens Gas and Vectren will jointly donate a total of $1 million to the Help Thy Neighbor Heating Fund, which provides emergency help to families up to 200 percent of poverty.

"Last year, we helped more people than ever before, and we intend to do it again this year. Between aggressive public action and the corporate citizenship of our utility companies, we'll keep the heat on for Hoosiers again this year," said Daniels.

Last winter, the state's Energy Assistance Program (EAP) served 158,881 households across Indiana, providing $54.7 million. The average household benefit was $334.50.

The state is well positioned to meet expected demand for energy assistance this winter. The Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA), which oversees EAP has already approved contracts dispersing almost $44 million in energy assistance funding to Community Action Agencies across the state. In addition, the state has $6.9 million left from a special allocation of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) funds ordered by the governor last year and $18.4 million from the 2005-06 federal LIHEAP supplemental appropriation. The IHCDA has allowed Community Action Agencies across the state to begin accepting applications for assistance on October 1.

Help Thy Neighbor provided nearly $3.4 million to help more than 16,400 households in all 92 counties with heating bill assistance last winter. The governor established the fund to help families whose incomes are 150 percent to 200 percent of poverty by providing them with one-time assistance of $200 if they have received a disconnect notice from their natural gas utility. The Lilly Endowment provided a $5 million grant and the utilities donated $1 million in 2006. An additional $26,902 was received in private contributions.

One recipient of Help Thy Neighbor funds wrote: "The assistance I have received from this fund has made the difference between my paying my mortgage or gas bill, buying food or paying my gas bill, buying medication to control asthma or my gas bill...While I hope the price of natural gas does decrease in the near future, I hope this fund remains. It is truly a blessing for those of us who experience financial hardships due to reasons beyond our control, and for those who haven't been as financially fortunate as I have been in the past."

With the $1 million contribution from the gas utility companies, Help Thy Neighbor will have $3.6 million to operate for a second year. Goodwill Industries, which held administrative expenses to 2 percent of total funds distributed, has agreed to oversee the program again this year.

"Indiana's natural gas companies are pleased to partner with Governor Daniels for a second year in a row to assist Hoosiers with winter heating bills. 'Help Thy Neighbor' is a program that truly lives up to its name by reaching out to those in need," said Ed Simcox, president of the Indiana Energy Association.

One change will be made to Help Thy Neighbor this year. From November 1 to December 1, assistance will be provided for crisis reconnection; from December 1 to March 31, regular or crisis reconnect benefits will be provided. The fund can be accessed only once by a household during the winter heating season.