Local News

Heating Funds Run Out In Edgecombe County

Posted January 6, 2003 10:29 a.m. EST

— For years, the Social Services Department has made money available to people in every county who cannot afford to buy fuel or wood to keep warm. This year in Edgecombe County, the money has already been spent, and it could happen in other places because of the soft economy and cold weather.

The lights are on at Dora Harris' house because of money from Edgecombe County.

"It was very important to me because if they had not helped me out, I would have been disconnected," Harris said.

Harris said she was lucky. Just a few days into winter, officials said the money that helped her and about 400 other families has dried up.

"Even though we are just a couple of weeks into winter, it seems like we've been experiencing February-like weather," said Hobert Freeman, director of Social Services for the county. "In addition to that, the demand is greater because of the high unemployment rate we find in Edgecombe County at the present time."

The Edgecombe County Department of Social Services started the winter with $62,000 for the crisis intervention program. Now, it has stopped taking applications.

"Even though we are out of money, it does not mean the need has been satisfied," Freeman said.

Officials said almost half the recipients have a family member who is elderly or disabled. They said the others have young children or may be unemployed. Most families get a single check for about a $150, but Harris said it is money they need.

"You'd be surprised at the people out here whose light bill is more than what they can afford," Harris said.

The state is hoping to prevent this same problem in other counties. State officials plan to ask President George W. Bush to intervene with federal funds to help the program.