Some say cooling program not so hot! - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

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Some say cooling program not so hot!

By Zaneta Lowe  - bio | email | Twitter

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - "If you don't get a recording, you get a beep, beep, beep!"

That's what 62-year-old Doris King says happens every time she calls the Enrichment Services Program.

King says she's been trying to contact the office to get an appointment for its cooling program.

The Energy Assistance Program offers elderly, along with low and moderate income residents assistance with their energy bills.

However, King says she's gotten no help at all.

"Well, I tried from 9:00 a.m. until after 5:00 p.m. (Monday) and didn't, didn't get through.  Tuesday morning, I tried again and it was the same recording," says Columbus resident Doris King.

We too heard a recording when we called, but by Wednesday, the message had changed.  Instead of letting callers know they were scheduling appointments, the message stated callers could be put on a waiting list.

King says she eventually got the same answer, but from a real person.

"I finally got through and the lady told me we're not taking applications we just have a long waiting list!"

We went to the Enrichment Services Program to get some answers, only to find that King isn't alone.

Program Director Sandra Tyler says they were contacted directly by AT&T Tuesday after getting more than 100,000 calls.  The representative told Tyler it even disrupted other government phone lines.

"It shut down the system because of the response and the gross need of the individuals," says Tyler.

Tyler says part of the problem is they could only afford to hire one person who answers three lines.  Our cameras captured video of the worker answering the phone and keeping a log while we were there.

Tyler also says the state allotted the agency $236,027 to cover its eight counties.  Out of that, Muscogee a little more than $181,000.

At $350 per person, they have enough to cover 518 people.  However, as of Tuesday, 354 people had signed up, and Tyler says that doesn't cover additional appointments already scheduled.  Plus, there are another 130 are on the waiting list.

Enrichment Services offered priority to elderly residents over the age of 65, the disabled and homebound.

"So when we get below a certain amount, we start taking a waiting list rather than over committing and can't follow through," explains Tyler. 

Despite what's happened, Tyler says they encourage residents to continue to call.

"We're asking the public to please be patient with us, we're working through the system, we will try every available means of reducing the frustration with regards to the telephone system," adds Tyler.     

But it's that frustration that may have forced Doris King to simply give up!

"The lady said she would call me, well I don't hold my breath on getting that."

Tyler also says there is a possibility the state could send more funding, which could mean the ability to assist more people.

While only getting the $236,027 for cooling, by comparison, the agency recieved about $2 million to assist residents during the winter's heating program. Tyler says the funding for cooling was actually made available with money left over from the heating program and is not a definite every year.

On another note, Tyler says in the future they're looking at the possibility of offering an online application process.

  
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