Utility Assistance Program Left In the Dark

Tonya Ramos
Tonya Ramos
Phyllis Cook, Executive Director, Panhandle Community Services
Phyllis Cook, Executive Director, Panhandle Community Services

Low income families may be out in the cold long before the winter months hit. Amarillo energy assistance programs are expecting to see at least a 20% hike for those in need of utility assistance, now and during the winter.

One local program through Panhandle Community Services is starting to feel the pinch, with close to a hundred families relying on them for help with their utility bill. Tonya Ramos knows what it means to live on a fixed income and how quickly a high energy bill can hurt it. "I don't know what I would be able to do to pay my utility bill," Ramos said.

Help may not come soon enough since the senate decided against boosting billions of dollars in funds for low income energy programs.

Executive Director Phyllis Cook says assistance programs have to prepare for the worst.  Panhandle Community Services keeps a close eye on their budget to help alleviate problems in funds for the future. "If we don't get new funds. There's no money to help with high high gas prices," Cook said.

The high cost of utilities is already hurting some Amarillo families. Ramos' says they can not handle the route the economy is headed, let alone energy bill increases.  A frustrated Ramos explains her dilemma. "I have 2 younger kids and we are struggling as it is," she said.

Energy bills nationwide are expecting to see at least a 3% to 5% hike dependent upon the the availability to resources.

Forcing new faces to show up for energy help, "We are seeing new families. We've never seen before because it's the working poor," Cook explains.

The situation turns up the heat during the summer months for utility programs to plan for the winter months. If not a lot of people and households are expected to be left out in the cold.

"I only get monthly checks and 50 to 75 dollars. I'm not going to be able to pay them (utility bills), Ramos said.  Panhandle assistance programs are holding out hope the senate will help. "  We're just praying that the federal people will release some if those funds as an energy crisis and will filter down to us," Cook said.

But praying may not be enough to make sure everyone has the necessities of water, electricity and gas.

For more information on utility assistance programs call Panhandle Community Services 372-2531.