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Help With Energy Bills Still Available for Low-Income Arizonans

July 22, 2011

PHOENIX - For low-income Arizonans, high summer energy bills can sometimes make the difference between having a home and homelessness. There are programs that can help with paying those bills, and to weatherize homes to make them more energy-efficient. Arizona Community Action Association Director Cynthia Zwick says folks are eligible at incomes up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level.

"For a family of four, that tends to be an annual income of about $33,000. For a single person, that's about $16,000 a year."

Zwick explains the energy bill situation for lower-income families is often complicated by the type of housing they can afford, which may have numerous air leaks and an inefficient cooling system. The federal weatherization program can help tremendously by providing an energy audit and repairs, she adds.

"Things like ceiling ducts, sometimes repairing or replacing an AC unit. They can make a home much more energy-efficient, which over the long term means that family, or the occupant of that dwelling, would be paying less in ongoing energy bills."

The program has already weatherized more than 6,000 Arizona homes, saving occupants $30 to $100 a month on their energy bills.

But both low-income energy assistance and weatherization programs are threatened with severe cuts as a result of budget talks taking place in Washington, D.C. Zwick believes this is no time to be cutting these programs, when so many families are out of work and have little prospect of finding jobs.

"The second-leading cause of homelessness is the inability to pay utility bills. And once a family is unable to pay their utilities, the next step is they can't pay their rent or their mortgage. They've got to get out of the homes."

Most major utilities also offer discounts, conservation programs and payment assistance for low-income people. More information is available at www.arizonaselfhelp.org and through local community action agencies.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ