Agencies help pay utility bills for people

December 18, 2008 7:01:27 PM PST
A Redwood City family, who suffered to carbon monoxide poisoning, is among thousands who can't pay their utility bills. However, if you're in that position, there is plenty of help available.

It might not be a Merry Christmas for Jasmine McFadden since PG&E is threatening to shut off her electricity any minute now because she owes $232.

"I called PG&E yesterday and told them I would try to get the money by Monday. They said 'Absolutely not, you have to pay in 48 hours or no electricity.' And I mean this is Christmas," said McFadden.

Under the law PG&E has to give customers, like McFadden a 15-day warning and then a 48-hour notice. But the head of the utility watchdog agency called TURN, says it's time for a new policy.

"Heats and lights, in particular, is not like getting your cable shut off. It's an issue of life or death," said Mark Toney, from TURN.

Toney is calling for PG&E and other utilities to agree to a moratorium.

"That'll impose a restriction on shutting people off when the temperatures drop below a certain temperature or during the winter time," said Toney.

Right now for those struggling to keep the meter ticking, there is help. There is a center run by the United Way that steers callers who dial 2-1-1 to emergency help.

"People don't realize help is available and they often don't know where to start and 2-1-1 is easy to remember," said Maria Stokes, from United Way.

One resource they suggest is the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. San Francisco's center estimates 8,000 people have come here this year.

"We have people walk thru here who've been unemployed for over a year. They are looking for work, can't find a job, yet they still have to pay PG&E," said Yolanda Birdsong, from LIHEAP.

She says so many people have asked for help the federally funded program is out of money until next year. Too late for McFadden who can only hope PG&E will have a change of heart.

Most counties have the 2-1-1 service you can call, but if you don't have 211, you can call 1-800-273-6222.

Here is also a list of resources and sites that also offer financial help for utility bills.

www.pge.com/reach

LIHEAP phone numbers (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program)
San Francisco: 415-749-6490
Marin County: 415-485-1489 acf.hhs.gov

Salvation Army (runs the Reach Program)
www.tsagoldenstate.org

Reach Hotline: 1-800-933-9677

Load Comments