OPELOUSAS — The St. Landry Parish Council unanimously approved a report Wednesday night that detailed difficulties the parishwide Community Action Agency has in providing services for the low-income home energy assistance program.
Executive Director Kirsten Brown-Thomas said the agency handles numerous requests for assistance with monthly utility bills, but not all applicants receive help due to the program’s funding restrictions and work overloads.
Council member Mildred Thierry said she placed the Community Action Agency item on the meeting agenda because she has received complaints from people who claim they are not receiving sufficient help with their utility bills.
Thierry said she was troubled by one Facebook post from a woman who she said was told by an agency employee that the agency had exhausted all the funding for utility assistance.
Brown-Thomas said that in 2016, St. Landry has received $811,757 from the Louisiana Housing Corp., which allocates money to parishes in need of energy assistance financing for low-income residents.
Since January, Brown-Thomas said, the agency has spent $409,635 to assist with utility bills. She said the agency is uncertain how much funding will be handed down to St. Landry annually, making the providing of assistance difficult.
Brown-Thomas said St. Landry ranks in the top 10 parishes statewide for what she termed “poverty-stricken individuals,” something that causes the agency to handle an excessive number of requests monthly.
Routine scheduling for people needing help with utility bills is scheduled as far as two months in advance. The scheduling procedure is performed by telephone, and the agency has only two incoming phone lines for handling requests, Brown-Thomas said.
Potential recipients are interviewed on a first-come, first-served basis, she said.
“If (the agency) can handle only one or two calls at a time, what about adding additional phone lines?” Councilwoman Nancy Carriere asked.
Parish President Bill Fontenot said he will consider the possibility of additional phone lines in order to expedite the requests. Fontenot said parish government employs some of the workers in the agency office located just northwest of Opelousas.
Brown-Thomas said the agency advertises in the Daily World when it receives money from the Louisiana Housing Corp. so those needing help can be serviced.
Fontenot said he personally has experience that sometimes those requesting help with utility payments can be deceitful.
“There have been a couple who have come into my office and I’ve found out they had already limited out in funding,” Fontenot said. “They were putting on quite a bit there.
“In fact, their presentations were so convincing that I was ready to write them a check right there.”