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More Texas Families Seeking Assistance Paying Heating Bills

IRVING (CBSDFW.COM) - The temperature may be plunging but that also means a lot of electric bills are skyrocketing.  The harsh winter has forced more North Texans than ever to seek financial assistance or face having their heat cut off.

Irving resident Erica Corbelletti desperately needs help. "I've been paying $200 a month just for an apartment -- a one bedroom apartment," she said.

Corbelletti, who is unemployed, said her electric bill doubled this past month -- and she's not alone.

Another Irving resident, Theresa DeLeon, is also having a hard time paying her utility bills. "We were unable to afford it [electricity bill] this month," she said.

DeLeon was among those who went to Irving Cares for financial aid. The organization has seen a 100-percent increase in families seeking assistance with their bills, compared to the same time last year.

Irving Cares CEO Teddy Story said, "Whenever anything happens in their [residents] budget it really puts them in a tough place really quick. They don't have a safety net to fall back on."

A typical North Texas winter brings an average of 33 days below freezing. This winter has seen 44 days with still more than a month left. That, along with a billing cycle that added two extra days to some bills, is being blamed for long lines at Irving Cares and other agencies that offer help to those who can't afford to pay.

The $1.5 million that these services get each year from the United Way is quickly depleting.

"We have other agencies report two to three times the number of times asking for assistance on the their utility bills," said Dana Brown, with the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas.

The DeLeon's financial situation is the worst it's been for a while. They're seeking help this month for only the second time in 11 years.

"We really don't know where we would be at this point… probably without electricity completely," Theresa DeLeon said frankly.

The DeLeon's said they keep their electricity usage as low as possible by setting their thermostat in the 60's and turning lights off in rooms not in use. Still, without financial assistance this family and a number of others are coming dangerously close to losing power.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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