Sweeping expansion of Memphis MLGW assistance proposed

By Lori Brown - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - A Memphis city council member is proposing a sweeping expansion of the MLGW utility assistance program. This new plan would provide emergency funding for thousands of families who currently do not qualify.

One council member says the resolution is going to either wind up costing tax payers big bucks, or leave those who need assistance the most, in the dark.

Norma Carter, a housekeeper at The MED says Memphis's Utility Assistance program saved her two years ago, when her hours at the hospital were cut in half.

"I was going to be in the dark," Carter said.

City Council Member Janis Fullilove proposed a resolution in hopes of helping even more people.

"Because of the condition of our economy, we have so many young women now, or single women who are having difficulty paying their utility bills," Fullilove said.

The city budgeted one-million bucks for utility assistance this year. Right now to get some of the assistance, you must have a cut-off notice, be at least sixty years old and/or disabled, or you must be at 125% of the federal poverty level.

Under Fullilove's proposal, people who are at least 30 years old and/or have a hardship such as a job loss or hospitalization would qualify, as well as people who are at 200% of the federal poverty level. For example a family of four earning up to $44,100 would qualify.

"The elderly, totally disabled, the very poor, who this program was designed for, are going to get less now," Council Member Kemp Conrad said. "I can see down the road people might ask for more money. The city is out of money."

MLGW Communication Director Gail Jones Carson says with increased eligibility, the one million bucks won't last long.

"With increased numbers of people being eligible for these dollars, I don't know if we'll make it six months," Jones Carson said.

Norma Carter says she disagrees with expanding who can qualify.

"I wouldn't expand it," Carter said. "Because, to me, most people who get this money, a lot of them don't need it."

Under Fullilove's resolution, the amount of money people could receive each year would increase from $700 to $800.

The full city council will vote on the resolution in two weeks.

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