New data shows Houston’s numbers are above the national average when it comes to struggling to keep the lights on.
Data from KTRK shows that 26% of Houstonians struggled to pay at least one power bill during the year, which is higher than in New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco. The data also revealed that 36% of Houstonians had to either reduce or cut back on food or medicine to help pay for utilities.
“It’s upsetting, but we still have to pay. Otherwise, it’s hot, and we wouldn’t have any air. And I’m not going to sweat like a dog living in the house,” Houston resident Charleen Jones said. “You just have to pay it.”
ABC13’s data team discovered that power problems are disproportionately worse on others. Households making under $25,000, and don’t have a high school diploma are twice as likely to be unable to pay the power bill.
If someone in the house loses a job, they’re three times as likely to be unable to pay the bill. Households with kids are twice as likely to be unable to pay the power bill as those without children.
Black and Hispanic households are twice as likely as white Americans to choose power over food or medicine.
One of those resources is at BakerRipley. There’s an income-based, federally-funded program. Neighbors can receive more than $2,000 to cover utility bills.
“If you have a need and you’re having to make decisions about whether you need to buy food, medication, or pay your electricity bill, there are resources in the community that are available to you,” said Glynniece Herron, BakerRipley’s utility assistance operations manager,explained. “Our Utility Assistance Program reaches Brazoria, Galveston and Harris County. The $2,400 in assistance is what would be for the future, but (if you have a rear amount), or back pay that you owe, or that’s due, that can be covered as well.”
A recent federal report shows electricity costs are 15% more than this time last year. Experts don’t expect it to drop much anytime soon.
Herron said the nonprofit has around $15 million in federal funds to hand out. The money can be used to help cover electricity, gas, propane and water bills. It also covers A/C and heater repairs.
Herron said the organization is hoping to help at least 7,000 families. Those with disconnection notices take priority.
“We take that to heart. We don’t want anybody’s electricity cut off. We don’t want anybody’s gas cut off,” she said.
To qualify for the program, you must be a U.S. citizen or a legal resident. You also will be required to share your utility bills with BakerRipley and prove your income.
“We’ve got specific funds that may be set aside, even if families are over income,” Herron said.
Visit www.bakerripley.org/services/utility-assistance-program to apply.