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City expands aid for electric customers

Posted: Friday, May 23, 2008

The city manager expanded Thursday the scope of who can receive city money over the next few months to help cover increased electric bills.

Now households with incomes three times the poverty level are eligible to get city help for 30 percent of the new electric rates. For a family of four, that means those making $79,500 can apply. Households making two-and-a-half times the poverty level, which means $62,000 in yearly income for a family of four, are eligible for half of the new electric rates to be paid for by the city.

The Juneau Assembly initially set aside $3 million for grants for residential electric customers making twice the poverty level and loans for needy businesses. The money was allocated to the United Way of Southeast Alaska and the Juneau Economic Development Council, who would then credit customers' accounts with Alaska Electric Light & Power Co., the city's privately owned electric utility.

Last month avalanches knocked out Juneau's main source of hydroelectric power, forcing it to rely on more expensive diesel fuel for its power. Electric rates are expected to be dramatically higher than normal until the lines are fixed sometime later this summer.

The expanded income levels are designed to reach Juneau's low-middle class households, according to United Way of Southeast Alaska President Brenda Hewitt. She said roughly half of the city's 12,000 households would be eligible for some kind of aid, up from about a quarter of households that were previously eligible.

"If you're looking at the bell curve, it should be from the median down," Hewitt said.

Better, more refined estimates allowed the city and charities tasked to distribute its money to expand the eligibility requirements, said Kevin Ritchie, Juneau Unplugged Relief Program Director.

Mayor Bruce Botelho said he supported the move.

"We're trying to be responsive as we can," Botelho said.

At a meeting to discuss the city's finances last week, city Assembly members voiced concerned that middle class households were being overlooked in the city's energy crisis efforts.

Assembly member Merrill Sanford said the manager's expansion of the aid program was a "good start," but said it was too early to tell it would be enough to help middle class households adequately.

"I don't think we'll know until we're really into this," Sanford said.

Applications for the energy relief are available at www.juneau.org or at any public library.



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