It doesn't mention if illegals are entitled to this program but I assume there is nothing stopping them from getting help. I will have to try and see if I can find out more about the program.

Posted on Thu, Jul. 28, 2005

Lines long at utility assistance groups

Staff Writer

At 6:45 Wednesday morning, a 30-year-old Charlotte man got in a long line, wanting to keep the air conditioning on for his three kids at home.

The retail consultant specialist, who asked not to be identified, made sure to come early for the 8 a.m. opening of Crisis Assistance Ministry. He learned the day before that the nonprofit group's office quickly fills up with people hoping to stave off a utility disconnect or eviction.

"This whole process is really overwhelming," the man said while waiting. "I have three kids, and my wife was out of work for six months; everything just came at once."

Everything added up to the 30-year-old man being several months behind his Duke Power bill. He owed nearly $290. He had a disconnect notice for Wednesday.

The man was one of about 100 people to ask Crisis Assistance Ministry for help Wednesday. Scorching temperatures this week have meant huge crowds. On Monday, more than 200 people asked for help.

But Crisis Assistance Ministry worries the most pain will come in a few months. Duke Power and other utilities generally give customers a few months to pay their bills before disconnecting them, said Doug Hartjes, the ministry's director of marketing and development.

When the 30-year-old father of three got to the front of the line Wednesday, he learned he'd have at least a day's reprieve. The heat index would be at least 105 on Wednesday, and Duke Power doesn't disconnect when it's that hot and humid, a case worker told him.

It's one of the ways Duke tries to help the less fortunate and unlucky on intensely hot days. Duke and the Duke Energy Foundation will donate $730,000 this year to programs giving away fans or helping people with their cooling bills across the Carolinas, said Elizabeth Bennett, Duke's community affairs manager.

Of course, much of that money returns to Duke. Crisis Assistance Ministry, for example, writes about $2 million in checks to Duke each year, helping people catch up on their delinquent accounts.

The 30-year-old man saw irony in that Wednesday, joking that he was the middleman in his hoped-for transaction.

If he could just get past this one hump, he said, he thinks he'll be fine. His wife found a job as a receptionist after a six-month job search; she started July 20 and will get her first paycheck soon.

He got the help Wednesday, when Crisis Assistance Ministry wrote a check for him to Duke Power.

"Everything's downhill from here," he said. "The kids are going back to school and won't have the lights on all the time, and I work third shift and will be sleeping all day with the lights off."