Salt Lake City, Utah - Utah Governor Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., along with several representatives from the community, today presented a plan for addressing the anticipated shortfall of funding for heating assistance programs for the elderly, disabled, and low-income. The Governor presented the plan at the home of Cheryl Wallace, an industrial accident victim who is a first-time recipient of heating assistance programs.
"Recently, the damages caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma have tightened the nation's supply of heating oils and fuels, causing higher market prices, and ultimately higher heating bills for consumers," said Governor Huntsman. "The rising cost of energy could hit the low income and those on fixed income the hardest."
"The high heating bills could cause some people to make hard choices such as paying the bills or paying for medication or food," said community activist Pamela Atkinson. "I've talked with people who are literally cutting their pills in half in order to save money on medication, which is putting their health in jeopardy."
The gap between the available assistance and the overall need is estimated to be between $3 million - $9 million. Historically, 35 percent of the eligible population has received assistance. At that level, the gap will be approximately $3 million. If 50 percent of the eligible population is assisted, the gap will increase to approximately $9 million. These numbers are based on providing people with the same amount of relative assistance received the previous year.
The Governor hopes the public will step forward to help fill that gap with donations of money, supplies and services. Questar and Utah Power will put special donation envelopes with their billing statements this month. They are asking their customers to donate money to the REACH or Lend-A-Hand programs. Those donations will be given to the American Red Cross office in Utah for distribution.
Josh Pederson of the 2-1-1 Info Line says the public can donate weatherizing tape, energy efficient light bulbs, low-flow shower heads, 'snakes' or draft stoppers, blankets for water heaters, sweaters, blankets, thermal underwear, hats, gloves, and other items. There is also a need for volunteers to deliver and/or install these items for seniors and people with disabilities.
"The National Weather Service tells that we can anticipate a milder winter overall, however it will still be cold and there will be days and nights of very cold temperatures," said Governor Huntsman. "We have seen Utahns come to the aid of people in need so many times, and we hope this winter will be no exception."
Donations can be arranged by calling the free 2-1-1 information help line. Energy saving tips that can benefit everyone are available on line at www.utah.gov.