Jonesborough to offer ‘Hand Up’
By Kristen Swing
Jonesborough customers may soon see their water bills going up, but it will be by their own choice.
The Town of Jonesborough has agreed to look at taking part in the Heisse Johnson Hand Up Fund, a program that helps those in need pay their utility bills through the generosity of other utility customers.
Currently, both the Johnson City Power Board and Atmos Energy participate in the program, giving customers the option to pay an additional $1 on their bill each month that is then designated to the Hand Up Fund to help those struggling to make ends meet.
The program is administered through the United Way of Washington County. At its inception in 1989, the program served 135 clients, dispensing $7,038 in assistance.
Since then it has expanded significantly. In the last six years, Hand Up has aided 790 clients and dispensed $84,000 annually.
Good Samaritan and the Salvation Army work with the United Way to screen applicants for utility assistance.
“When you add $1 or more to your utility bill, it allows us to pool a lot of dollars. We then will actually help those in need pay their bill for them,” explained Lester Lattany, president and CEO of the United Way of Washington County. “We’ll help them not have to make a choice between buying food and paying their utility bill.”
A person may receive assistance up to $125 during a year. Hand Up also assists elderly neighbors with help year-round with their utility bills through the options outreach program of The First Tennessee Development District.
At the April 8 meeting of the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen, members voted unanimously for Town Recorder Abbey Miller to work with program leaders to get the town’s water department involved.
Customers of the water department will be given the option to sign an authorization form adding $1 to their monthly bill. At the same time, town water customers who have fallen on difficult times and need help paying the water bill will be referred to the Hand Up program.