City of Memphis drops utility assistance program - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Anna Marie Hartman

City of Memphis drops utility assistance program

A late announcement came Friday night from the mayor's office. The city of Memphis will say good-bye to its utility assistance program.

In April, Mayor Willie Herenton announced a new plan to help Memphians struggling to pay their utility bills.  But less than three months later, the $2.5 million program has been cut with very little explanation.

At the close of business on Friday, a brief letter came from the mayor's office.  It reads, "The City of Memphis Utility Assistance Program will not be funded in the new fiscal year. The office will closed July 1, 2008.  However, the city will continue to provide assistance to agencies that provide social services."
"For this kind of decision to be made we really need to be very careful because families are very needy right now," city council person Wanda Halbert said.

The news came as a surprise to Freshman Memphis Councilwoman Wanda Halbert who doesn't remember discussing the cut with council members during recent budget meetings.  

"I have to find out how this decision was made and why it came to the council this way," Halbert said.

Herenton developed the concept to help residents who do not qualify for existing assistance programs.

Rose Gales runs a summer camp for kids.  She has not used the program but knows a lot of people who have.

"A lot of folks are on fixed incomes and they depend on the program so its gonna really make a mess," Gales said.

A mess that the mayor made no mention of during a lengthy conversation with reporters on Thursday. 

Halbert said she has a lot of questions about how the program got cut but because the letter went out so late today.

It will probably be Monday before she is able to get all the answers.

Click here to e-mail Anna Marie Hartman.

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