Ozark Opportunities helping people in need in north Arkansas during pandemic

Published: Apr. 28, 2020 at 1:09 PM CDT
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During dark economic times, a group in northern Arkansas is doing its part to keep the lights on.

"We have a great ability right now to give help and hope," said Rebecca Dotson, the Boone and Newton County outreach worker.

Ozark Opportunities has been helping people pay their utility bills, whether those have piled up for months or just started to accumulate. The organization has helped thousands of families pay off utility bills from $50-$500 depending on the family's income and the situation. They serve six counties: Baxter, Boone, Marion, Newton, Searcy and Van Buren Counties.

It's a one-time payment, and it doesn't matter what your bill is. And they're seeing a lot more people seeking help for the first time.

"It's a humbling thing to be able to help other people out," said John Harrison, the Marion and Baxter outreach worker.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program uses federal funds.

Ozark Opportunities has provided nearly $300,000 in such payments so far this year, but it normally ends March 31.

Now the coronavirus has that program extending well into the spring.

The winter non-emergency program goes until May 15, and the emergency program will go on longer.

"At any day they could start actually going through the shutoff process again, and then you're dealing with big bills that could have been managed earlier," Harrison said.

The federal government's CARES Act is also offering groups, such as Ozark Opportunities, more money to help with more than just gas and electric.

But the organization needs to hear what those needs are, whether it's paying water bills, rent or something else.

"To say, 'Hey, these are the needs that the people in the community have. They know what they need. They've told us what they need, so can we get the funding to help meet that need?'" Dotson said.

The group is encouraging people across northern Arkansas to take an online survey, hoping that shines a light on where the greatest needs are moving forward. To fill out that survey, you can go to OzarkOpp.org or their Facebook page www.facebook.com/ozarkopps/, or directly at www.surveymonkey.com/r/8K6CZYF

"This is why we're in this business is to help make life a little bit better for everybody," said Crystal Rogers the community services supervisor.

Ozark Opportunities also has a summer program that helps pay for air conditioning.

To fill out an application, go to OzarkOpp.org or call them at (870) 741-8485:

As a precaution against spread, offices are closed to public foot traffic

Applications for all services are available via the following methods:

o Folks can call for an application to be mailed or faxed

o They can pick up an application from our take one boxes located at all community services outreach locations and our central office in Harrison

o They can print an application from the website

o They can download and fill out an application on their computer

o OzarkOpp.org, click on the Utility Assistance banner on the homepage

· We can also fill out an applications over the phone for clients

· To return an application

o Mail it to an outreach office

o Email it an outreach worker (all contact info listed on our website OzarkOpp.org, under the Community Services Department tab)

o Fax it back to an outreach office

o Upload their application on our website (OzarkOpp.org, click on the Utility Assistance banner on the homepage)

o Secured Drop boxes located at all community services locations and our central office in Harrison-they are locking and secure. Drop boxes are checked regularly to avoid delays in processing of applications

· Applications are still being processed in the order they are received

· Crisis applications still require an interview – this is being done over the phone or via email

· Crisis can now assist PAST DUE amounts without a shutoff notice

o If folks have a past due amount, please contact us. We may be able to help!!!

· Non-Emergency is closing on Friday, May 15, 2020

· Crisis assistance will continue after non-emergency assistance is closed