The winter months and low temperatures in Colorado mean higher costs of heating and electric bills at the end of the month. Meanwhile, a statewide organization that helps people pay those bills says they've seen a big increase in the number of people they've served in the past year.
Jennifer Gremmert is the CEO and Executive Director for Energy Outreach Colorado. She said year-over-year, there's been a 40% increase in people reaching out to them for help. A lot of it was also funded and made possible from federal dollars after the pandemic.
Energy Outreach Colorado helps Coloradans afford to pay their bills through programs like the bill assistance program, by providing energy efficient home upgrades and educating households about using energy wisely.
Last year, the organization served nearly 40,000 households across the state, and 26,000 households got help through the bill payment assistance program.
Gremmert said the current need has included a mix of both people who've asked for help every year and people asking for help for the first time. The need also comes from people across the state, in both urban and rural communities.
"Then there's certainly people that have a crisis, a health care crisis, a divorce or some kind of job loss that then necessitates the need to ask for energy assistance you know, to make sure that people don't get disconnected from their usage or from their service," said Gremmert.
Gremmert, who's been in that position for five years and with the organization for almost 24 years, said an energy bill is one of the most important bills people pay after paying rent. She added the challenge with affordable housing and increases costs of food have made it even more challenging for people to afford that bill.
"We want to make sure that there are affordable energy programs both on the crisis side -- like making sure people can afford that emergency assistance -- but also thinking about the long term affordability and what we can do to help people better afford it," said Gremmert.
Last year, the organization spent about $400,000 every week to help people pay their energy bills. Gremmert also said that number has doubled over the past few years.
She added that a lot of the need this winter is because there have been some very cold stretches of days. Plus, the organization is also being asked to be more involved with the education aspect of how energy comes into homes.
"We're using more natural gas to heat our homes. We're seeing more demand for electricity and different technologies that are we're using, and so all of those things create a challenge for households," said Gremmert.
"When we say energy, for example, it's important to think about how you pay more during certain periods of time, or if all of a sudden you're thinking about getting an electric vehicle. What does that look like?" Gremmert added.
Most of the people the organization serves are older adults who are disabled and on a fixed income. They also serve a lot of young households facing increased rent or student loans.
The organization works with more than 60 organizations across the state to help deliver programs and resources to those who need it. They also do advocacy work to encourage affordable energy police across the state.
The organization also helps fill the need where LEAP cannot. LEAP is a program that helps low and moderate-income Coloradans pay part of their winter heating bills over a six-month period. The benefit can range anywhere from $200 to $1,000 over the six-month period. Benefits differ depending on what an applicant's income is, what type of fuel is being used, energy prices, etc.
There are income qualifications for both programs. For Energy Outreach Colorado, the qualifications are around 80% of the area median income. LEAP focuses on clients around 60% of the state median income.
For more information about Energy Outreach Colorado, visit energyoutreach.org.
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