Despite warmer weather, heating assistance still a big need in N - Quincy News, Weather, Sports, and Radio

Despite warmer weather, heating assistance still a big need in Northeast Missouri

Winter may be winding down, but there are still people struggling to pay their heating bills.  That's why Missouri Governor Jay Nixon wants to add millions of dollars to the state's heating assistance program.  But is it too late?

The proposal would give an additional $3.5 million to state agencies for heating assistance, and one of those agencies that could use the money is North East Community Action Corporation.  So far, NECAC has helped thousands of households get some sort of heating assistance, but there are many others who need help.

Keeping the lights on and the thermostat at a comfortable level is a struggle for a lot of households in Northeast Missouri.  That's why people like Richard Pence have had to rely on NECAC for help because of medical expenses. 

"I applied for heating in October and I got that help.  Then they helped me again through the winter and one other time.  It's been just this whole entire winter," Pence said. 

Pence said he still hasn't caught up on his utility bills. 

"As of right now I don't know how I'm going to pay it.  I just keep struggling and hopefully things will change," he said. 
Since October, NECAC helped pay more than $1 million worth of heating assistance for low income families.  NECAC spokesperson Brent Engel said the reason the money goes so quickly is because more people need help to get by.

"What has climbed is the utility bills themselves.  Because the winter's been colder, we're seeing people come in with a lot higher bills than they've had in the past," Engel said. 

Those high bills can continue to hurt families, even in March.  That's because so many people still owe on balances that are past due.

"While it was cold, most utilities in Missouri under state law prevented them from shutting off customers.  Now that the weather has warmed up, they are now able to do that. So we've seen a lot of our clients who have received shut off notices in the last two to three weeks," Engel said.

Engel said he's still not sure how much money NECAC could get if the Missouri Legislature passes the budget request.  Right now, Engel says the average client needs roughly $400 for heating assistance. 
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