Corbin H. Crable
As summer temperatures continue to rise and household incomes continue to fall, some Gardner residents may have trouble keeping on top of electric payments to keep their air conditioners on.
“We have a fund through Johnson County that every multi-service center (in the county) draws upon, and with that money we can assist with about $100 to every household per year,” said Linda Rogers, director of the Gardner Multi-Service Center. She added that the multi-service center will only help pay for a resident’s past-due amount on their electric bill.
In order to receive financial assistance from the multi-service center, households must meet certain criteria. Residents must live in Gardner or within the USD 231 service area, and they must live at or below certain poverty guidelines – for instance, Rogers said, a household of two would meet the criteria if they make no more than $2,428 per month or $29,000 per year.
Rogers said those seeking financial assistance also need to bring in the actual past-due electric bill, as well as proof of income for the last 30 days. That can include payment stubs from Social Security, child support, unemployment and regular jobs. Residents must provide those pay stubs from everyone in their household who is 18 or older.
Rogers said she works closely with the city of Gardner, which refers residents with past-due electric bills there for help.
“(The city) is one of our best referrals,” said Rogers, who added that she has recently taken on the highest number of first-time clients she has seen in her years with the center.
Gardner Mayor Dave Drovetta said the city of Gardner does its best to establish payment plans with residents before referring them to the multi-service center.
“We give residents every opportunity to develop a plan,” Drovetta said. “Our goal is to not have cutoffs and to keep (electric) service going. So we work with residents regularly to get through the tough times they may have.”
Drovetta said the city also donates funds to the multi-service center to help pay for its electric utility assistance program. That money comes from the Mayor’s Christmas Tree Fund, much of which receives money through donations from local residents.
“As we go through that program every fall, there’s tons of generous folks who give cash (for local charities and food donations),” Drovetta said. “Once that need is met, the remainder of that fund is given over to the multi-service center to help people pay their utility bills.”
Drovetta said it’s no surprise to see the fund receive plenty of donations each holiday season to help residents keep electricity flowing through their homes.
“We have very generous people in the area, and I know there are circumstances in which those who have been helped by the center have turned around and given back,” he said.
But, Rogers said, the arrival of summer’s heat doesn’t just mean a struggle to pay for air conditioning. She said the need to fill the center’s food pantry isn’t seasonal – it’s a need that is expressed year-round.
“The free summer lunch program (offered through USD 231 at Gardner Elementary) has helped tremendously, but I still see a demand at the food pantry,” Rogers said. “For the food pantry we request that people come in just once a month. We also work with the Kansas City Medicine Cabinet for medical needs … and whatever else comes on our plate on any given day.”
Those who may need financial help with keeping the air conditioning on this summer can call City Hall at (913)856-7535 or the Gardner Multi-Service Center at(913)856-7405.