Cold temps spike utility bills, local agencies offer help

(KFVS) - Winter weather can easily put a person's bank account in the deep freeze especially families that live paycheck to paycheck.

Whether it's fixing a burst pipe or spending more on monthly heating bills, the expensive season can take its toll.

The public affairs manager at SEMO Electric Cooperative, Glen Cantrell, said that it typically costs more to heat a home during the winter months than it does to keep it cold in summer.

"So it's four degrees outside and you want 70 inside," Cantrell said. "That is a 66-degree difference and the heating system within your house is constantly working to fill that gap."

Cantrell suggested numerous methods to reduce the amount of a winter utility bill spike. He said that people should keep their thermostat below 70 degrees, wear extra layers inside to stay warm and that its essential to fix areas of your heating system where warm air is escaping.

"If you don't a well insulated home, if air is coming through the windows, or if your ductwork has holes or isn't properly installed that could really raise your heating bills," Cantrell said. "We just challenge people, check those windows, check your ductwork, use your ceiling fans properly. Those are really small, inexpensive things that can make a really big difference on your heating bill."

Numerous community action agencies also recognize that not everyone can afford those fixes and are offering energy assistance programs to take the edge off.

Denise Wimp, the director of First Call For Help which is a funded partner through United Way of Southeast Missouri, said the free phone service connects people in need with nearby opportunities that need funding and are currently available.

"If somebody calls in, we aren't going to refer them to an agency that can't help them because of some kind of eligibility requirement," Wimp said. "We're going to make sure they get to the correct place in order to get that taken care of."

The two main Missouri agencies that have seasonal utility funding for winter and summer are East Missouri Action Agency, which serves Bollinger, Cape Girardeau and Perry counties, as well as Delta Area Economic Opportunity Corporation which has programs for residents in Dunklin, Mississippi, New Madrid, Pemiscot, Scott and Stoddard counties.

"They have two (utility) programs," Wimp said. "So a person can actually get help more than once during the winter."

For more information, you can contact First Call For Help by calling 573-334-4357 or visiting www.firstcallforhelpsemo.org

The Salvation Army of Southern Illinois is also hosting a utility assistance fundraiser Friday, January 19 from 12 noon to 6 p.m. to gather money for their program which helps all 20 counties in Southern Illinois.

Staff will be positioned near red kettles on busy streets and at drive-thru donations sites which are located at the Black Diamond Harley Davidson in Marion, the Kroger in Herrin, the Mattress Firm in Carbondale, and the Wal-Mart in Murphysboro.

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