Elderly living on fixed incomes know how difficult it is getting by, but the Imperial Irrigation District board has made changes to a key program in hopes of improving the quality of life for seniors.
The Residential Energy Assistance Program that started in 1998 to help with paying electric bills recently got a makeover, explained Lulu Vizcarra, its program supervisor. To spread the word about the benefits of REAP, IID representatives visited the Imperial Gardens Apartments in Imperial on Sept. 12.
Newly retired, apartment resident David Cisneros noted living from benefit check to benefit check stretches his income to the limits. Though he recently injured his back and walks with a cane, he is otherwise in good health. Unfortunately, he conceded he also recently fell two months behind with his IID bill.
“I needed to assist my daughter who was in a car accident,” recalled Cisneros. “I wanted to help her with this emergency. But I only have Social Security for income.”
Yet he never before had a problem paying his IID bill.
“An automated phone message informed me I was late with my payment,” Cisneros recalled. “I got a ride to the IID office and made a payment arrangement. I paid half of the back due bill and have 30 days to pay the balance.”
Cisneros said he found out about the REAP program days before IID arrived when one of the utility’s fliers was left at his apartment door, so he submitted his first application.
IID recently lowered the minimum age for assistance eligibility from 65 to 62. IID customers 62 and over can get a 30-percent discount but must submit an application every two years, noted Vizcarra.
“Imperial County has long been low-income, so we know there’s more people who qualify here. Yet you must be earnings qualified,” she said.
IID also increased the allowable income limit to 200 percent of the federal poverty level so more people can participate, noted Robert Schettler, district public information officer, who attended Imperial Gardens event.
“That’s why we’re doing outreach today,” he said. “We have 12,000 people enrolled but that’s down from 15,000. Since the economy improved a couple of years ago our beneficiaries roll has fallen.”
A household of up to two with an annual income of up to $32,920 qualifies for the 30-percent discount. The income limit rises $8,640 for each additional household member.
Those 61 and younger can qualify for a 20-percent discount if they meet the above guidelines but they must submit an application every year.
“People go in and out of the program. That’s why we’re outreaching directly,” said Schettler. “But that 20 to 30 percent really adds up. Every IID customer pays 2.85 percent towards a public-benefits charge. That covers the seniors’ discount, air conditioning tune ups, weather stripping and a rebate program.”
Albert Duarte, another Imperial Gardens resident, said he formerly was enrolled in the assistance program but let his membership lapse several years ago. However, he maintained the discount was only 13 percent when it started. He explained a 30-percent discount will make a big difference, especially since his bills can fluctuate wildly with the seasons.
“I’m on a very fixed income and all I get is Social Security,” said Duarte. “It’s very different in summer if you don’t have their (IID) average pay program. I now pay $53 each month. I don’t want to get any more surprises with $100-plus bills in summer. It gives me ease of mind–and of wallet. I think it’s a great idea and it really helps.”
IID also has an emergency energy assistance program for customers in danger of being disconnected for nonpayment and a program for customers who need to power medical devices. To qualify for either customers must first be enrolled in the REAP program.
Another workshop will be held in Holtville on Oct. 2. More information about the program is available by calling (800) 303-7756.