A blast of cold air across much of the country combined with a sputtering economy has made for some tough times for those trying to keep up with home heating costs. In a neighboring town close to where I live, residents were offered assistance through local churches and community organizations on a first come, first serve basis. Residents lined up in droves and far exceeded the number of spots available for help. In fact, at one event over 400 citizens showed up in need of financial assistance keeping their utility bills current, but the church was only able to accept around 100. That left a few hundred others out in the cold. I suspect the numbers are even worse in larger cities.
Where To Find Help
There is never a good time to have your power cut off, but when temperatures are extremely hot or extremely cold seems to be the absolute worst time possible. Unfortunately, it is the very young and very old that suffer most. While none of us have an unlimited supply of money to go around paying electric and gas bills for people, there are ways to make a difference in your community.
Here are a few places to start if you find yourself having trouble making utility payments this winter.
Contact churches, community organizations and The Salvation Army. These organizations are on the front lines and are often the first line of defense for those displaced by the cold. To those looking for ways to help, these organizations are always in need of financial assistance, blankets, coats, gloves, hats, etc. I recommend contacting one in your area to find out what they need most.
Investigate energy assistance programs through your utility company. Many power companies offer energy assistance programs and will work with customers by offering one-time assistance such as prorated billing.
Be prepared to help pay a portion of the bill. Unfortunately, charitable organizations are unable to foot the entire bill for someone in need of help. In most cases they can only offset a portion of the overall bill, so be prepared to cover the remaining amount. If you are unable to, contacting multiple organizations could pay off as often times they will pool resources to cover the cost of the entire bill.
The first step if you find yourself in trouble is to sit down and complete a budget of your entire household expenses, and any income you have. Next prioritize these expenses based on their importance to your survival–food, shelter, lights, clothing and transportation is a good start. Literally write the number “1″ next to the highest priority, “2″ next to the second highest priority and so on.
You will find things like credit card bills, subscriptions, and cell phones are near the bottom of the list. That’s acceptable for now. If credit card companies call looking for money, politely explain your situation and promise to notify them when you are able to make a payment. Hang up the phone the instant they become abusive or threatening. No one deserves to be mistreated or talked down to by some idiot in a cubicle 500 miles away. Do not be intimidated into putting credit cards before the mortgage, or other basic needs.
Hopefully any financial setback is a temporary one, and soon those in trouble will find a reliable source of income. When that happens more money will be available to work further down the list of priorities and catch up any amount in arrears.