Know where to turn for help during hard timesWritten by Michael Driehorst | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Paying an overdue utility bill, putting food on the table or securing another month’s rent is possible with the right knowledge.
Resources available in the recession-ravaged Northwest Ohio range from unemployment and job-search aid to taking care of basic life necessities of food and shelter.
With its connection to more than 1,300 Toledo and Northwest Ohio organizations and charities, United Way of Greater Toledo said it has a handle on the needs of the area and available resources.
From October through January, United Way made 63 percent more referrals for food than it did during the same period a year earlier. For the same time comparison, it made 52 percent more referrals for utility assistance.
Without United Way’s reach, many would still find resources but might miss other opportunities, according to Maricela Alcala, technology resource manager.
“They may not be able to know of all the programs they may qualify for,” Alcala said. “For example, a person may not qualify for rent assistance, but in talking to the person, a United Way representative may be able to suggest a program for food assistance that would free up money for rent.”
United Way of Greater Toledo offers a toll-free 2-1-1 service to call for information on financial and other resources. Cell-phone and pay-phone users should dial 800-650-HELP (4357).
United Way also has a Help for Hard Times guide available at the site www.unitedwaytoledo.org. The 31-page document includes suggestions and hints for dealing with stress, managing reduced finances and assistance for insurance and health care. It also includes telephone numbers for assistance and charity programs in Erie, Lucas, Ottawa and Wood counties.
Often, the private sector offers assistance in a variety of ways, too.
“We understand that times are tough,” said Toledo Edison spokesman Mark Durbin. “If customers are having difficulty paying their bills, call us immediately.”
Durbin pointed to several state and company programs to ensure people maintain their electric and utility services when money is tight.
For example, HEAP — Home Energy Assistance Program — is a federally funded, state-administered program that provides grants to residents from October through April to prevent service from being disconnected or to restore it.
“We highly recommend that people call as soon as possible if they think they might need assistance because there isn’t an infinite amount of funding in the program,” Durbin said.
Columbia Gas of Ohio also offers assistance plans for its customers.
To gauge qualification for the HEAP grant, call 800-282-0880. Other programs include the Percentage of Income Payment Plan, which helps those who qualify — households with income levels at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level — to pay past-due balances on utility bills.
There’s also a Winter Reconnect Program where, through April 15, customers make only a one-time $175 payment regardless of the amount owed to maintain service.
Brian Rome is Family Emergency Services program director for the Toledo Diocese’s Catholic Charities. Rome said his program is designed for those facing eviction or foreclosure and provides financial help up to $500 for Lucas County residents. To learn more about the program, call (419) 244-6711.
Help at a Glance
United Way of Greater Toledo: 2-1-1, or 800-650-HELP (4357)
Lucas County Job & Family Services: (419) 213-8999
Ohio Department of Job & Family Services: 877-852-0010
Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency: 800-638-3995
Catholic Charities’ Family Emergency Services: (419) 244-6711
Toledo Edison: 800-447-3333
Home Energy Assistance Program: 800-282-0880
Salvation Army (assistance to pay utility bills): (419) 241-3549