Requests for utilities assistance rise with the temperatures

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- It’s utilities assistance that’s come just in time for the Perez family.

The meter inside their home shows a little over $12 remaining on the account -- not enough to get through another triple-digit weekend.

“She has two small children. It’s very difficult to sleep with the air condition,” said Steve Jenkins, a volunteer with St. Vincent De Paul.

He dropped off a prepaid electricity card at her home Friday afternoon.

“So, you’ll be able to run electricity for another week or two,” Jenkins explained to the family.

Volunteers with St. Vincent De Paul say requests for utilities assistance are rising along with the temperatures. Their agency is just one of many Valleywide trying to respond to the need and put families in touch with resources that can help.

“The most often requested service is utilities assistance,” said Cynthia Zwick, executive director of the Arizona Community Action Association. Her organization works with a dozen agencies to distribute funding available for utilities assistance.

Zwick says the federal funding available to Arizona through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, known as LIHEAP, totals nearly $30 million but covers less than 10 percent of the people who need it. Zwick says the grants favor cold-weather states.

As a result, the vast majority of people who need utilities assistance go without.

“There are just too many people in Arizona in need of service. We have the fifth highest poverty rate in the country,” said Zwick.

If a family is struggling to pay their bill, Zwick urges them to reach out to their utility company to try and make payment arrangements. She also urges people to research and reach out to agencies that can help.

While the effects of the recession are still taking a toll on Arizonans, the bills have not stopped. Irene Smith estimates she pays over $200 a month.

“A lot of times I have to go without certain things that my family needs to pay that,” said Smith.
She says she prioritizes air conditioning over food in her budget.

“The heat could kill you; it could actually kill you,” said Smith. “If you don’t keep cool, you’ll die.”

St. Vincent De Paul has launched a campaign to collect donations and host food drives so that families have more money to pay for increasing electricity bills.

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