Community Action of Greater Indianapolis loses $11M energy program

Thousands of Hoosiers rely on Community Action each year.
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It's warm outside now, but there are some major changes coming to a winter energy assistance program in Marion County.

The agency in charge is out and 13 Investigates uncovers the huge shake up and what's next.

No one knew it back in December when residents formed one of the last lines out the door for residents seeking winter energy assistance at Community Action of Greater Indianapolis. The agency that's helped families weather hefty heating bills for decades has lost its funding for the federal program - a grant worth $11 million.

"Wow! That program has helped a lot of people," said Lisa Cummings of Indianapolis.

Community Action lost the grant to United Way and its partners during a bidding process.

The Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority decided to put the Energy Assistance Program up for bid after allowing the Boner Community Center to run a pilot program in 2012.

The authority liked the idea of spreading out services, but says the differing systems caused confusion.

Then there are those long lines in the cold. Cummings stood in one 20 years ago.

"Yeah, I stood in line about four o'clock in the morning. Standing there because they were taking people at 6 a.m.," she said.

Community Action President Ed Tipton declined an on-camera interview, but told 13 Investigates the loss of funding is "a devastating hit for the agency."

"It's a lot of money and it serves 30,000-40,000 people in Marion County every year, so it's very important," said Ann D. Murtlow, president and CEO of the United Way. "This is not about United Way, it's not about CAGI, it's not about Boner Center. This is about the people who are served through this grant. It is critical that they be served well."

Under their proposal, United Way, the Boner Center and Connect to Help 211 will staff mobile sites at senior citizens homes and centers for the disabled. United Way providers will also agree to staff 30 other sites across Marion County.

"Geographically located in places that are easier for folks to get to, at times that are convenient to them," explained Murtlow.

The United Way says its program will also feature new technology to track the application process. Murtlow says the United Way is working with its partners to get the program implemented. That includes a campaign to highlight locations in September, before the full take over October 1.

The Indiana Community Action Association says its meeting this summer to come up with ways to prevent its members from losing large grants like this in the future.