People More Likely to Seek Help With Heating Bills This Winter

The record cold that's hitting a large portion of the United States and all of Canada is going to jack up heating bills, just when so many families can't afford it.

About 8 million American households received government help with their electric bills in 2009. Power was turned off in 4.3 million households because people got behind on their electric bill payments.

USA Today reported that the National Energy Assistance Directors' Association said a lot more families will need help this year:

" 'It looks like 2010 will be a very difficult winter for a lot of people,' says Mark Wolfe, the association's executive director. The group represents programs that subsidize energy bills.

"More households got assistance last year because of increased funding. Congress gave $5.1 billion to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP. That was up from $2.6 billion in fiscal 2008.

"Wolfe says the federal government is increasingly stepping in to provide Americans with help paying energy bills in the same fashion it's provided base coverage for food and health care. 'We are not there yet. But the numbers are moving in that direction,' he says.

"The big increase in LIHEAP funding last year helped stem what could have been a flood of utility shutoffs, Wolfe says."

The New York Times said that desperate households will go to drastic measures to stay warm:

" 'Households will do just about anything to stay connected,' said John Howat, an analyst with the National Consumer Law Center in Boston. If they cannot pay, some people move and open a new account under a different name. Some run extension cords from a neighbor's house, others spend weeks getting heat from dangerous kerosene stoves and light from candles.' "

Additional resources from the National Energy Assistance Directors' Association

You can also check with your local provider to see what its inspectors are finding.

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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.


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