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Staff photo, Brooke Self
Steven Agcaoili, Shelter Supervisor at Desert Manna, talks with Jessica Taylor about Southern California Edison's Utility Assistance Program. The program helps around 30 income-qualified families a month with $100 toward their utility bill.

Utility assistance program helping in cold winter months

Utility Assistance Programs:

Southern California Edison Energy Assistance Fund (EAF)

Relief for Energy Assistance through Community Help (REACH)

Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP)

For more information call Desert Manna at: 760-256-7797

BARSTOW • It’s the first year Southern California Edison’s Energy Assistance Fund will help qualified individuals throughout the entire year including from January to May, according to Shelter Supervisor at Desert Manna Steven Agcaoili.

The utility assistance program has historically ran just six months out of the year — June to December — and allots $3,000, or enough for $100 of assistance for 30 low-income families each month at Barstow’s Desert Manna.

Agcaoili said he’s inundated with 50 or more calls each week from those in need. Jessica Taylor of Apple Valley is one such resident. An unemployed, single mom with two children, she came to the shelter in Barstow, when her utilities were on the verge of being disconnected.

“It would mean a lot to our family. My daughter has a hard time. She’s afraid of the dark and we’ve been disconnected before,” Taylor said with tears welling up.

The program helps residents from all over the High Desert and receives calls from as far away as Fontana, according to Agcaoili, due to waiting lists in those areas. The program prioritizes those who have been or are about to be disconnected and is only available once every 12 months.

To qualify for SCE’s program, recipients must bring in documents proving household income and have a utility bill with a past due or disconnection notice. Without proper documentation, applicants are turned away and in some cases must make the 40-mile return trip to Hesperia or Adelanto.

On Wednesday, Taylor was returning from her second trip from Apple Valley, after not having the correct utility bill. It’s a common occurrence, Agcaoili explained and said it should end after the utility company transfers their billing online this summer. In this case, Taylor will return again before the week is up because the statement she brought was still not an official bill.

Agcaoili has been in charge of the disbursements at Desert Manna for the past three years and said while getting tearful, that he’s become somewhat of a town name because of his assistance.

“People come up to me and shake my hand when they see me at Wal-Mart or the grocery store; they’re just so grateful for my help,” Agcaoili said.

SCE’s Energy Assistance Fund has helped utility customers since 1982 through the partnership of the United Way of Los Angeles, and the network of 80 community-based organizations that disburse the funds, according to the SCE website.

“The fund is an important part of our customer outreach efforts — especially in today’s challenging economic environment — providing critical support to our customers who are having difficulty paying their electric bills,” the Southern California Edison website reads.

SCE spokeswoman, Nancy Jackson, said the company does whatever it can to help their customers.

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