The Constant Quest

28 Jan

People often ask us, “What’s the most frequent request?”  Without doubt it is and has been for years, “Can you help me with my electric bill?”  Our annual outlay for electricity bills is generally in the $30,000 range. Before the recession, when we didn’t as rigorously hold our assistance to $50, the figure often reached $40,000.

Every year American Electric Power, under one of its subsidiaries, Appalachian Power (APCO) for West Virginia, or Kentucky Power for our folks on the other side of the Tug, is our biggest customer. I have said, jokingly, that maybe we ought to ask for a commission from AEP for helping to collect for its bills.

When your monthly income, if you have one–and surprisingly many people don’t–is $710, the power bill is a big chunk of it. For example, when a family manages to get into subsidized public housing, their rent is limited to one-third of their income.  Then they learn that they have 10 days to pay an electric deposit of $150 (or in Kentucky, more likely $250). And  that’s not easy to manage.

Bills build up fast in the winter.  A conservative friend of mine pays over $500 for a winter month’s electricity. And contrary to popular belief, electric companies do turn off service in the winter months, though they are slower to do so then than in the summer. They don’t want to be seen as responsible for someone freezing to death. Some who do win reprieves in winter take all summer trying to get caught up before cold weather strikes again.

           Others spend all summer without electricity. It’s easier to be without power in the summer –except that the kids can’t take a hot bath,  meals can’t be cooked  (most of our folks are total electric), and it gets very hot in those tin trailers without AC.

           Some people heat with kerosene, especially when their electric is off and the nights turn cold, but that’s a dangerous resort. The recurrent request is “Can you help us with our electric bill?” We do. And we refer them to the Dept. of Human Resources  or Coalfield Community Action or the churches–unless they have referred them to us. For many, it’s a constant quest.

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