“I’ve fallen behind. I can’t keep up,” said Wanda Flores, inside her Beacon Street home in Hartford.
Flores, who has been in a wheelchair for decades because of a rare genetic disease, owes Eversource $1,194 for electricity, a bill that she’s been struggling to catch up on since May.
“I’ve never had a bill this high in my entire life,” said Flores.
Add that to her natural gas bill and she owes nearly $1,500.
The worst may be yet to come. Double-digit increases are predicted for electricity, natural gas, propane, and oil this winter:
- Electricity: 14%
- Natural Gas: 10 to 20%
- Propane: 35%
- Oil: 40%
Flores said keeping her home warm during the winter is expensive because her house is so old.
The heat just comes out,” said Flores.
For the last several years, Flores has turned to Operation Fuel, a charity that gives out $500 grants to those who need help paying their utility bills. Between July and October, the organization typically helps 1,500 people. This year, during that same time period, it helped a record 2,000.
“Once folks pay their taxes, once they pay their high rents and transportation costs, there really isn’t much left at the end of the week or the end of the month,” said Operation Fuel Executive Director Brenda Watson.
The state recently received a record $135-million from the federal government for home heating help.
Individuals who make less than $39,000 a year or a family of four with an income of $75,000 or less a year can apply to the Connecticut Energy Assistance Program. Those who receive SNAP benefits or cash assistance from the state automatically qualify.
Unlike the state’s energy assistance program, Operation Fuel assists some middle-class families, too. Watson said a family of four with a gross income of up to $93,000 qualifies.
“If you receive a shut-off notice or when you receive your bill and you see it’s too high or you cannot afford to pay it, do not wait; call 2-1-1 right away or go to operationfuel.org,” said Watson.
Many more people could struggle to pay their bills this winter than last.
“Probably try to get another job, two jobs probably. That’s the only way we’re going to be able to survive,” said Marisol Perez of Wethersfield.
“It’s gonna put a dent on me. I’m gonna have some issues,” added Attilio LaCana, also of Wethersfield. “It’s kind of scary actually.”
“Maybe cut back on other bills, give up some things that are not very essential,” said Roberto Villa of Hartford.
Flores calls Operation Fuel a lifesaver.
“I am so grateful and thankful for them that they are able to help people like me,” she said.
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) recommends residents get a home energy audit.
“A vendor will come to your home. They’ll look at your whole house they’ll find all the ways you can save energy in your house,” explained Vicki Hackett, deputy commissioner of DEEP.
Anyone can get a home audit. It costs $50, but keep in mind that the recommendations you’ll receive for insulation, new appliances, or windows will also cost you.
The good news: there are rebates and Hackett contends you’ll save more money in the long run.
“It can save people a significant amount of money from $200 to $250 a year for basic services to considerably more than that if you insulate your home,” she said.
Hackett said there are other ways to keep heating costs down such as turning your thermostat down and unplugging appliances that are not in use.