- The Washington Times - Friday, October 18, 2002

Low-income and senior residents of the District yesterday signed up by the thousands at the 13th annual Utility Discount Day for help in paying big summer and winter utility bills.

More than 4,000 residents packed Hall D on the lower level of the D.C. Convention Center in Northwest to find out if they were eligible to receive reductions on their electric, water, gas and phone bills. The D.C. Energy Office runs the program with help from Potomac Electric Power Co., D.C. Water and Sewer Authority, Verizon and Washington Gas.

Violeda Rodgers, 66, who lives in the Shaw neighborhood in Northwest, said she hoped the program would help pay her $300 electric bill.

"This is the first time I've come here to get help," Mrs. Rodgers said. "Pepco hurt me this year, and with just Social Security I can't afford the bills."

Energy Office Director Chuck Clinton said Mrs. Rodgers' situation is becoming more common with energy prices rising each year.

He said the average low-income resident can pay as much as $300 annually for home heating. With a new grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the D.C. Energy Office is prepared to help a record number of residents.

"Last year we helped a record 4,400 residents many of them laid-off hotel workers after September 11 and we may exceed that this year," Mr. Clinton said.

He said the city held the discount day early this year to get a jump on helping families through the winter.

"We are ahead of the game this year," said Gwen Hawkins, Pepco manager for community development.

The city was able to offer discounts to 19,000 households last year under a $5.7 million federal grant from the Low-income Energy Assistance Program.

The city was awarded $1.1 million from the Residential Energy Assistance Challenge grant for the first time last year, said Ralph McMillan, the energy office's chief of regulatory and legislative affairs. The grant will run through 2004.

Mr. McMillan said the impact of September 11 and the energy office's "new holistic approach incorporating utilities, food assistance and case management and bringing in other partners" were implemental in obtaining the funds.

Herbert Tillery, deputy mayor for operations, said the program goes a long way to help needy families maintain stability in a tough economy.

"This is one of the things the mayor is doing to help the elderly and residents living on fixed incomes the ones who need it most and have been most affected by this economic downturn," Mr. Tillery said.

The event went from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Residents who were unable to attend may apply by calling the D.C. Energy hot line at 202/673-6750 to schedule an appointment.

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