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More WA Families will Struggle to Pay Power Bills This Winter

October 8, 2007

Bellingham, WA - Washington's crisp fall mornings are just a reminder that winter is waiting just around the corner. If you think you're going to need help with high energy bills in the coming months, you'd better ask now or you may lose out.

Social service agencies in every Washington county and city are gearing up for more requests this year from people who won't be able to afford their heating bills. Federal funding has not increased for the programs this year, although energy costs have risen, and so has the number of people in Washington who need help to pay utility bills and weatherize older homes. Debbie Paton of The Opportunity Council in Bellingham says energy costs are taking a bigger chunk out of poor families' budgets.

"Lower income families or people on fixed incomes have about a 15 percent energy burden on average, whereas the typical household in this country is about a three percent energy burden. Now imagine how difficult it would be to pay 15 percent of your monthly income on household energy bills."

Paton says only about one-fourth of the households that need the help will be able to get it this year; she encourages those who are eligible to contact their utility providers now.

John Davies runs the "Building Performance Center," managing the weatherization efforts for The Opportunity Council. He explains that statewide, more than 100,000 Washington households are eligible for weatherization services to help with energy costs -- but only 4,000 will actually receive them this year.

"The cost of weatherization for materials, labor, and insurance continues to go up, and the overall effect is that we are weatherizing fewer and fewer units that need winterization every year."

Davies says weatherization can save 15 to 30 percent on energy bills and worries the funding shortage means programs like his have to prioritize, doing households with children, seniors and disabled persons first.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA