Energy assistance program sees demand for help rising |

Energy assistance program sees demand for help rising

DENVER ” Coloradans already behind on their heating bills are struggling with ever-soaring costs, pushing more than 110,000 households to the brink of having their heat and lights shut off, according to a group that helps people pay their utility bills.

Skip Arnold, executive director of Energy Outreach Colorado, said a 30 percent jump in gas prices this year on top of last year’s 73 percent increase is putting many elderly customers and low-income families in financial jeopardy.

“We have many households going into winter with balances of $400 or $500 still owing from last year,” Arnold said.

Energy Outreach said about 105,000 Colorado households sought help last year, a number expected to grow by roughly 5,000 this year.

Arnold said more than 366,000 households have incomes low enough to qualify for assistance.

“Many of those people pay up to 50 percent of their income just for energy,” he said.

Energy Outreach, a nonprofit that raises money from donations and grants, wants the Legislature to provide more money for the program.

Thirty-four states have created programs for low-income energy assistance. State Sen. Paula Sandoval, D-Denver, plans to introduce a bill to create such a fund.

Margaret Reed, a retiree, must cover her rent, food and medicine for diabetes and high blood pressure with her $700 monthly Social Security check. She couldn’t keep up with her heating bills and was in danger of having her utilities shut off.

“It went up and up and up. It got to be more than I could afford,” Reed said.

Metro Caring, which gets money from Energy Outreach Colorado, paid Xcel Energy $154.24 to keep Reed’s utilities on.

Energy Outreach Colorado provided about $5.3 million last year to 90 agencies for low-income seniors and families. It plans to spend about $5 million this year, or $3 million more than it will raise from donations by individuals and businesses, including many utilities.

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