Demand up for utility assistance with heat & ongoing inflation

LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) – With the sweltering temperatures we’ve had lately in Nebraska, many have been reaching for the thermostat to keep them cool.

But, for those struggling financially, paying utilities and forfeiting something else to do so is a reality many face.

According to the US Department of Energy, it costs lower-income families on average 8.3% of their income to pay for home energy. That’s almost three times more than the average for higher-income families who spend about 3% of their income on utilities.

Agencies that offer utility assistance in Lincoln say the recent heat and ongoing inflation are increasing their request numbers this summer.

“This time of the year, we do see an increase in those in need of utility assistance, however, I don’t think it’s just about the time of year. I think it also has to do with the economic impact that we’re seeing right now,” said Sarah Fentress, the Emergency Services Administrator for the Community Action Partnership of Lancaster and Saunders Counties.

The Community Action Partnership of Lancaster and Saunders Counties offers different kinds of assistance for Nebraskans. It said in May it had 260 calls for utility assistance. This month, it’s already surpassed that with 261 and there’s still a week left in June.

It also said 96% of the people it helped this month already had their service disconnected.

“The pandemic, higher utility rates, I think families are really faced with not having enough funds to pay all things in the household so which are essential which would be rent, utilities, and food,” said Fentress.

Legal Aid of Nebraska doesn’t directly do utility assistance, but it is a resource for those in danger of having utilities turned off or those who have already had them turned off. On average, he said it gets over 100 calls a month for this type of help.

“It stays pretty consistent, but obviously, since the pandemic, we’ve really increased our case volume and our staffing to address increasing volume,” said Scott Mertz, the Housing Justice Project Coordinator.

Mertz said many don’t know their rights when it comes to these situations.

“Everyone is entitled to a written notice informing them of the shut off prior to it happening and that shut off should have sufficient information as to what is owed enough time before it is shut off to be cured,” said Mertz.

Legal Aid said if you think you may be in danger of losing your utilities, your best bet is to reach out to a resource like their agency for the next steps.

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