While many Ohio consumers are familiar with assistance programs that offset heating costs during the winter, they may not be aware that help is available to them during the summer months as well.

While many Ohio consumers are familiar with assistance programs that offset heating costs during the winter, they may not be aware that help is available to them during the summer months as well.

It is estimated that one in 10 Ohio residential utility consumers experienced a disconnection of either their electric or gas service for nonpayment in the past year.

Given the difficulty that many customers are experiencing paying electric bills during tough economic times, the office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel is pleased that funding for the Summer Crisis Program is available this year.

The Summer Crisis Program, administered annually by the Ohio Department of Development, assists households with an annual income at or below 175 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. This aid is available to eligible consumers through a one-time payment of up to $175 toward their electric bill or, depending on the area of the state they reside in, assistance with cooling equipment such as an air conditioner or fan, if available.

In addition to the income guidelines, households also must meet the following criteria to be eligible for assistance:

Have a member who is at least 60 years of age or older.

Have a member under the age of 60 with health issues that are verified by physician documentation.

To apply for the Summer Crisis Program, consumers need to contact their local community action agency. The community action agency determines the level of benefits that can be provided.

The program is available from July 1 until Aug. 31.

Consumers also should work with Job and Family Services and other community organizations for help.

For additional information about the 2009 Summer Crisis Program or to locate the nearest community action agency, consumers should contact the Ohio Department of Development consumer hotline at 1-800-282-0880 or TDD 1-800-686-1557, or via the Internet at energyhelp.ohio.gov. Consumers also can identify their local community action agency by visiting the ODOD Web site at http://www.odod.state.oh.us/cdd/ocs/locate.htm.

For additional information on all available assistance programs or to obtain help in avoiding a disconnection, consumers should contact the office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel toll free at 1-877-PICKOCC (1-877-742-5622) or visit the Web site at www.pickocc.org.

Janine Migden-Ostrander is the Ohio consumers' counsel.

Janine Migden-Ostrander