Residents struggle to get through to LIHEAP, coordinators say no - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Residents struggle to reach LIHEAP, coordinators say not to worry

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On Monday, phone lines opened for Calcasieu Parish residents wanting to take advantage of the low-income energy assistance program known as LIHEAP, to make appointments to receive assistance paying utility bills.
With an influx of people wanting to participate, some people waited hours before getting through to make their appointment. 

"My name is Mary Breaux, and I'd like to make an appointment please." 

Those were the words Lake Charles resident Mary Breaux had been waiting to say all day.

"I call. I put it on speaker phone. I get the busy signal. I hang up. I call back. I've been doing that all day long," Breaux said. 

While the timing seemed to be perfect when our cameras showed up, getting an appointment to participate in the program came after hours and hours of unsuccessful attempts and busy signals.
At one point throughout the day, Breaux called the line over 300 times back-to-back.

"I called 327 times and then I called CCOA (Calcasieu Council on Aging) because I'm a senior citizen to see if they had anything to do with it," said Breaux.  

She put up with the waiting because she knows the benefits of the program, which provides assistance with utility bills by providing a credit of up to $500.

"It's so wonderful to open your bill when it comes in and not only is that bill paid but you still have money in your account," she said. 

Still, after almost 400 calls, we wanted to know why did Mary and so many have to go through this on the first day.
Program coordinator Juana Felton gave KPLC an answer ... 

"Don't give up, don't get discouraged, keep calling. The phone lines are just saturated right now with people calling in," said Felton. "You don't have to even worry about calling in today or even this week." 

That's because, according to Felton, they've received funds to last them through September 2013. So, not being the first one to call on Monday or even the remainder of the week, does not mean you won't get utility assistance. 

"If you call next week, you will get an appointment. Your chances of that not happening is not likely right now," Felton reassured. 

While she went through an entire working day calling to get through, Breaux knows it's not in vain and that those on the other side are just as busy. 

"They're working just as hard as we're working trying to get through," she said.

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