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As the weather is finally becoming cooler, heating systems in people’s homes are seeing heightened use. Those who cannot afford to keep their homes heated due to financial reasons suffer, and might sacrifice in other areas of their lives, such as food quality, to afford the increased heating.
This holiday season, United Way of Larimer County urges others to give a gift that has the ability to change someone’s life. United Way of Larimer County wants individuals to give the gift of heat and donate to “Heat a Home for the Holidays” for a positive impact.
“Everyone paying a heat bill will be impacted by the changes of the seasons. Seasonal spikes (summer or winter) in bills is one of the biggest issues related to utilities’ impact on low-income folks, since they pay a larger percentage of their income than anyone else,” Pete Iengo, Community Engagement Program Coordinator at the City of Fort Collins. “People often need to make tough choices on what to prioritize related to food quality, needed medications, reliable transportation, and housing costs like rent/mortgage and utilities.”
In addition, “Poor ventilation and aging, inefficient appliances and heating systems” means that low income families spend more money than others to keep their homes warm for the winter, according to Khalil Shahyd, Project Manager, Urban Solutions Program in Washington D.C.
According to the Census Block Data, about 9,000 Fort Collins Utilities households earn less than 165% of the Federal Poverty Level. This puts many families in Fort Collins at risk for stress and possibly the inability to afford utilities that are rapidly rising.
Low-income people who work to provide for themselves or family can become very stressed during the winter due to heightened utility bills. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, “on average, low-income households pay 7.2% of household income on utilities—more than twice as much as the median household and three times as much as higher income households.”
Because heating bills rise dramatically, according to Iengo, it makes it harder for low-income families to get by the season without stress.
“High energy burdens and poor housing quality then contribute to health problems: poorly heated or cooled homes contribute to asthma, respiratory problems, heart disease, arthritis, and rheumatism. Families struggling to pay energy bills may sacrifice nutrition, medicine and other necessities, which compound the effects of inequality,” Andrew McAllister, a former graduate student in the Energy and Resources group at UC Berkeley.
So, how can people help out those low-income families of Larimer County?
United Way of Larimer County’s “Heat a Home for the Holidays” initiative aims to encourage donations to assist low-income families in paying their utility bills this winter. The most common request during the winter months is for utility assistance through United Way of Larimer County’s 2-1-1 hotline. United Way 2-1-1 hotline provides resources for individuals who are struggling in Larimer County.
Fort Collins Utilities has initiatives in place to assist those who need help with their utility bill, and recognizes that assisting low-income customers is a joint effort that requires local and state partnerships. One important nationwide initiative managed locally by Larimer County Department of Human Services is the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP). LEAP provides financial heating assistance to income-qualified customers during the cold winter months. By partnering with LEAP, Fort Collins Utilities is confident programing will be more accessible to customers in need.
Another example of an important partnership is Utilities’ Payment Assistance Fund. This fund provides payment assistance to qualifying households with past due accounts once per 12-month period. “Our Payment Assistance Fund is designed to serve as an emergency / temporary assistance, and is an important piece of the Utilities affordability puzzle,” claims Pete Iengo.
The City also offers a Utilities rebate to disabled or elderly income-qualified customers, based on their previous year’s income. “When unavoidable bills pile up, utility assistance can play an important role in keeping people warm and in a stable home,” says Iengo.
Knowing they can give a family some peace of mind and helping them better afford their bills rewards those who are willing to donate. They can help someone drastically even by donating $25.00. The funds for “Heat a Home for the Holidays” will be directed to local service providers that provide utility assistance to the customers who need it the most.
To give to the “Heat a Home for the Holidays” campaign and help make a difference in your local community this winter, click below.
Copyright 2015 United Way of Larimer County