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Programs help people keep cool in sweltering heat

July 26, 2005|by ADAM BEHSUDI

adamb@herald-mail.com

Robert Bailey, 79, is more comfortable in his Walnut Towers apartment with the help of a newly installed air-conditioning unit.

"I fell asleep and I woke up and it was pretty cold," said Bailey last week, adding that he would never imagine being cold this time of year, especially in his otherwise sweltering apartment.

The air-conditioning unit is part of an effort by the nonprofit organization REACH to provide people with health problems respite from the stifling heat and humidity of the summer months.

As the dog days of summer linger, other programs in Washington County are helping low-income people pay mounting electricity bills as they run their air conditioners overtime.

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The REACH program has given away 20 window air-conditioning units so far this summer, said Gina Barst, coordinator of services. She said the agency had 35 requests for the units.

"This past week we've really had a demand because of the heat," Barst said last week.

The new and used air-conditioning units are donated by individuals and businesses.

Recipients of the units qualify for the program by having health problems that could be exacerbated by the heat and humidity. Barst said income also plays a large role in who gets one of the units.

"A lot of the ones that we serve are elderly that live in subsidized housing like Walnut Towers or Potomac Towers," Barst said. "We also serve a lot of children from lower-income families."

Potential recipients often are referred to REACH by clinics, doctors, caseworkers and public agencies like the Hagerstown Housing Authority and the health department.

The Community Action Council also is helping people beat the heat this summer with state-funded home energy programs. The Maryland Energy Assistance Program and the Electric Universal Service Program help low-income families pay their electric bills, which can rise dramatically during the summer and winter months.

The programs are administered at the county level by organizations like the Community Action Council or county agencies.

"The Electric Universal Service Program will pay a monthly benefit towards an electric bill year-round," said Deborah Wasilius, director of finance at Community Action Council.

She said 3,100 Washington County households received $1.3 million in energy-assistance aid last year.

The amount that each person or family receives is determined by usage, income and family size, Wasilius said. According to the latest census numbers, 6,000 to 8,000 households have an income level that qualifies them for the energy-assistance programs, she said.

The Community Action Council also provides free weatherization services to low-income families to make houses energy efficient.

For more information about the Community Action Council's energy-assistance program, call 301-797-4161. REACH Caregivers can be contacted at 301-733-2371 or by e-mail at reach@myactv.com.

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