A program designed to give those fighting the budget crunch a fresh start launches today.

Fresh Start is an initiative led by the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta and will provide one-time financial assistance to eligible individuals across the state.

Locally, the Greater Valdosta United Way and Lowndes Associated Ministries to People Inc. (LAMP) will administer the program.

The Fresh Start program aims to help people who are in danger of eviction or foreclosure or people who are unable to pay high energy bills due to loss of income or economic downfall.

Funds from the program are limited and will be available to residents in Brooks, Berrien, Lanier, Lowndes and Echols counties, said Bobby Yarbrough, executive director of the Greater Valdosta United Way. The funds available are divided up by county, he said, though exact figures cannot be released per DHS guidelines.

Prospective applicants need to print off a copy of the guidelines and application from the Web site, www.unitedwayvaldosta.org, or pick up a packet from the LAMP office at 601 N. Lee St.

LAMP will begin processing applications today and will work with applicants each week from 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday until the funds are spent.

To take part in the program an applicant must be a U.S. citizen or legal alien, a resident of Georgia, a caretaker for a minor dependent child living in the home or non-custodial parent participating in the Georgia Fatherhood Program whose child receives Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and have an income at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level. The applicant must also live at the address provided on the application for benefits.

The funds from Fresh Start will only be used to provide mortgage assistance, rent assistance  and/or utility assistance. A person must provide a pre-foreclosure notice, an eviction notice, late notice, past due or shut-off notices and proof of income to receive help, Yarbrough said.

Proof of income can be paystubs are other types of income, such as disability checks, he said.  The maximum amount an applicant can receive is $3,000 and only one application per address can be submitted.

After the applications are approved at LAMP, the applicant will come back at a later date to have an intake person total up their needs, he said. The checks will be distributed by the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta and be sent directly to the vendor requesting payment, Yarbrough said.

The funds within the Fresh Start program have to spent by Sept. 30, but applicants will be served on a first-come, first-served basis until the funds are dispersed, he said.

Applications must be printed off the United Way Web site or picked up at the LAMP office. Phone calls are not accepted.

The Fresh Start Program is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

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