Demand for AEP Ohio’s Neighbor to Neighbor program still powerful

MARIETTA — The AEP Ohio Neighbor to Neighbor program was established in the wake of the recession 10 years ago, but need for the program has not diminished over time.

In Washington County, according to Jim Tilley at The Caring Connection, $11,500 in grants has been disbursed to 63 households in the past year to help them keep their electricity running.

“For the past couple of years, the demand for the program has been pretty steady,” Tilley said Thursday.

Neighbor to Neighbor is funded by customers of AEP who commit donations to help those in need pay their electric bills, and the donations are matched by the company, said AEP Ohio Community Assistance Programs manager Debbie Paris. Since its inception in 2009, she said, the program has issued $13 million in grants to 52,000 households in the state.

Contributions by AEP Ohio customers have remained steady throughout the history of the program, she said.

Donations can be made by checking a box on electric bills or directly through AEP’s Neighbor to Neighbor website.

Paris was unable to say how much Washington County customers have contributed to the fund, but she said that since its start, grants have been issued to 704 households in the county for a total of about $173,000.

The program is intended for people who are temporarily unable to pay their electric bills, she said, and it is meant to work in combination with other forms of assistance for those in need. Customers can, for instance, make extended payment arrangements when they can’t immediately meet an obligation. Some people also can benefit from a federal assistance program, LIHEAP, for assistance with home heating expenses.

The Neighbor to Neighbor program offers a maximum of $250 per application to households that have income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

“That’s more than people might think,” Paris said. “For a family of four, it’s a gross annual income of $51,400.”

The program in the past has accepted applications from households earning up to 250 percent of the poverty level in times when the economy was soft, she said. The level is adjusted from year to year.

Neighbor to Neighbor accepts applications for assistance during two periods of the year, heating and cooling. This year’s heating program will close April 30, and the cooling program will start July 1 and finish Aug. 30, Paris said.

Caring Connection is the agency in southeast Ohio that accepts applications. Tilley said applicants need to be threatened with shut-off or already disconnected and have made at least $75 in good-faith payments during the previous 90 days.

Federal and state assistance opportunities need to be exhausted before Neighbor to Neighbor funding will be considered, according to guidelines.

Further information is available from Caring Connection at 740-376-9072.

“We think it’s a wonderful program,” Paris said. “It really helps a lot of people in Ohio, it truly is neighbors helping neighbors.”