Local News

Heating assistance available for those in need

Posted January 14, 2009 10:23 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— Amid the nation's economic crisis, a record surge of people are in need of help staying warm.

"I had financial difficulty. I lost my job,” Paul Yongo said.

Yongo said he is barely able to pay his rent or keep his utilities on this winter. He is among a slew of people hoping to get financial assistance through the Wake County Salvation Army.

"The problem is (that) so many other people are facing the same problem, and it is a long line,” Yongo said.

About 7.3 million households are expected to get fuel aid this winter, according to a survey released this week by the National Energy Assistance Directors' Association, which represents state-run, energy-assistance programs for low-income residents.

That is nearly 1.5 million more households than last winter, a 27 percent increase. It is also about 800,000 more households than the previous high in 1985, the group said.

"We are still turning 10 (people) away easily everyday,” said Paige Bagwell, director of operations and communications for the Wake County Salvation Army.

Bagwell said more people are turning to charities to keep their heat on as temperatures drop. Four days a week, the Salvation Army gives 15 families $100 to help pay for utilities. However, many more people apply and leave empty-handed.

"We are seeing people [who] have never asked for assistance before,” Bagwell said.

Lines for services are up 35 percent at the Salvation Army. It is much the same at other area charities, where waiting lists are weeks-long.

"Their bills are getting higher and higher and higher,” Bagwell said.

There are few options for people, except to apply and hope the funds are available.

"Just one day at a time. That is the best you can do,” Yongo said.

Yongo is attending classes at Wake Tech, he said, in hopes of improving his financial situation.

Wake County commissioners have also approved funding for emergency heating assistance. Commissioners have made $813,283 available to eligible low-income households struggling to meet utility bills.

Residents can call 919-212-7000 for an appointment to apply for the aid.

Families earning up to 150 percent of the poverty level are eligible. In 2007, aid was made available for individuals making up to $15,000 and for families of four making up to $21,000.