The struggling economy hurts the elderly

May 8, 2008 7:31:36 PM PDT
These are tough financial times for many Americans and for those with little discretionary income, some things that are necessities are becoming luxuries.

The line begins forming as early as 6 a.m. with seniors waiting to pick up a bag of groceries at a San Francisco center run by Catholic Charities. The free food allows them to budget for other bills, but 77-year-old Will Huffman says rising costs, from medicine to gas, make it tough.

"It's really putting a pinch in my dollars and everything goes up, but nothing helps me," says Huffman.

"We're seeing a lot of seniors come to us and ask for help in getting their past due PG&E bills paid because they've fallen behind," says Christian Irizarry, from the OMI Senior Center. "Some are pretty desperate, some have cutoff notices."

PG&E says there is some help available.

The utility offers several programs to help senior citizens. The most popular is called CARE.

"The CARE program gives everyone who is qualified, a 20 percent discount on their monthly bill," says Mariana Hernandez, from PG&E.

"Do you know when they are going to shut you off?" asks Layne Schneider from Community Action Marin.

Steven Graves is not enrolled in the CARE program. He says PG&E threatened to turn off his lights on Thursday for a past due bill, less than $100.

The disabled vet turned to Community Action Marin. The non-profit agency has helped more than 400 people pay PG&E bills so far this year.

"Typically now these low income households, the energy burden is going way up into the double digits. 20 to 27 percent of their income," says Dick McKee, from Community Action Marin.

The increased demand for help has left, the organization broke. Now more people may find themselves going without.

"They try to keep their bills as low as possible. They're afraid to turn on the heat. They bundle up and it's really sad," says Schneider.

PG&E admits they do cut off delinquent customers, but says only as a last resort.

"Before that happens, we try to work something out with them," says Hernandez.

Community Action Marin worked something out for Graves, with a promise to pay his bill.

Bay Area organizations assisting those in need:

Community Action Marin, click here

(California Alternate Rates for Energy)
PG&E CARE program, click here

(Relief for Energy Assistance through Community Help)
PG&E REACH program, click here

Catholic Charities USA, click here


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