Minor Thoughts from me to you

Heating Aid, The Right Way

Last year I was extremely critical of Governor Doyle's plan to increase heating aid for poor Wisconsin residents. This year, I'm still critical of the state's heating aid program.

I'm certainly not opposed to helping my poor neighbors. In fact, I don't really think I have much of a choice in the matter.

[esvbible reference="Matthew 25:34-40" header="on" format="block"]Matthew 25:34-40[/esvbible]

But I want my assistance to be precisely targeted, I want it to help those who need the most help, and I want to give it myself -- not have it taken from me by an overbearing government. That's why I was glad to find Alliant Energy's Hometown Care Energy Fund.

Through the Hometown Care Energy Fund, Alliant Energy offers free, confidential financial help for the elderly, disabled and families trying to make ends meet.

Hometown Care Energy Fund is supported by Alliant Energy and its many caring customers, employees and shareowners.

When you give to Hometown Care, your donation goes directly to neighbors in need in your area, with funds administered by local community action programs.

In 2006, more than 1,699 families received an average grant of nearly $248. Your generous contributions of $244,000 helped share the warmth with those who needed it the most.

Their description of the program didn't offer the kind of information I was really interested in, so I asked some questions.

  1. How much of the funds collected funds are paid to community groups? 100%? Or does Alliant Energy keep some of the funds as administrative fees? Alliant Energy distributes 100% of the donations to agencies, but allows the agencies in WI to use up to 6% of the funds for administrative purposes.

  2. Does Alliant keep track on exactly how the community groups use the money? Do they use 100% of the money for heating aid or do they keep some of it as administrative fees? Besides the up to 6% used for administrative purposes, the rest is distributed as agencies see fit for heating aid.

  3. The website says "your donation goes directly to neighbors in need in your area". How big is the local "area"? I live in the Village of Oregon, in Dane County, Wisconsin. Is the money I donate disbursed to community groups in Oregon, in Dane County, in Southern Wisconsin, or in the entire state of Wisconsin? The area is by county. A donation from Oregon would go to Energy Services Inc of Dane County.

  4. The site says that "A customer's payment history may also play an important part in selection for a Hometown Care Energy Fund grant." Does this mean that customers with a solid record of payment -- who suddenly fall behind -- are preferred over customers who habitually don't pay their bills. Yes, agencies take this into account in awarding their grants.

  5. Finally, does the program encourage customers to economize on other areas of finance before receiving grants? For instance, if a customer was paying for cable television but unable to pay their energy bill, would they first be encouraged to cancel cable before receiving grants? Yes, the reason we use the agencies we do to distribute the funds is the often first take an Energy Assistance application from the customer which may provide them some state aid. Second they may discuss with them their income and expenses. Last these funds are there to help them if needed.

I hate cold weather with a passion and am very grateful for on-demand heat. I can't stand the thought that some of my neighbors might be cold because I was too stingy to help them out. Now that weather is getting frigid, we're donating money to the Fund each month.

As we approach Thanksgiving and you think about your blessings, this is a great way to share your wealth with those less fortunate.