Story by Nick Austin Eyewitness News Meteorologist
RINGGOLD, GA (CATOOSA COUNTY)--High unemployment and rising gas prices have been an unfortunate part of the economic landscape for North Georgia lately, forcing many people to seek financial assistance from groups like North Georgia Community Action (NGCA). The exceptionally cold December in the Tennessee Valley has only added fuel to the fire. Requests for help with heating bills has been rising.
Darrell Simpson receives disability for medical conditions and he takes care of his wife 24/7. She is confined to a wheelchair. Having to live on a low fixed income, he went to the Catoosa county office of NGCA the morning applications were first accepted but was initially turned away.
"I was already like number 80 on the list," said Simpson. "They changed the rules this year because of the funding. They said they could only take 75 at a time." He had to wait a few weeks before reapplying.
The 10 county service area of NGCA received $4.6 million in state funding for their programs last year. So far, program officials have received only $1.7 million to hand out which was split evenly among the 10 counties. The counties each expect to receive only a little more than $30,000 in additional money which still won't be enough according to Dupree.
"This year has been really frustrating," said Cheryl Dupree, Community Developer for the Catoosa county office of NGCA. "Right now we have the funds to do 115 [requests] on our intake log. I'm up to 517."
All of this during the fourth coldest December in the region's history. Dupree is upset at having to turn people away. She has tried to refer them to other agencies when possible, but that is often fruitless at the end of the month.
"They get their funds on a regular basis around the first of the month. By this time of the month they have all their funds exhausted," explained Dupree.
Simpson and his wife were finally approved but still have to wait six to eight weeks before seeing any credits on their heating bill due to the assistance. Until then, they'll continue trying not to use their main heat source too much. "We're using a little 110 oil heater," said Simpson.
As for NGCA, Dupree said the only hope she sees in keeping the program alive this year will be through donations from those who can afford to give.