When applying for help to pay electric bill, timing is everything

Local News

As temperatures fall and electric bills soar, many in East Tennessee struggle to pay them. If you need help, there are resources available, but timing is crucial. 

Lillie Chapman says she’s been without power or water in her home since September. She contacted WATE 6 On Your Side to see what she could do.

“I could handle the heat, but I can’t handle this cold,” she said. 

Steve Bandy, with East Tennessee Human Resource Agency, explains their agency can help people like Chapman, but their electricity has to be on. Bandy calls Chapman’s situation a worst case situation because so many programs require utilities be on before they give relief. He explains people in her situation fall through the cracks of the various programs out there. 

LIHEAP is one of them. LIHEAP, federal dollars to help low-income families pay their utility bills during the coldest months of the year come in three forms: $350, $500, or $650

Eligibility is determined by several factors that show a need. 

With two blankets with holes in them keeping her warm at night, Chapman says it often feels warmer on her front porch than inside. She draws $750 month in disability benefits and $149 in food stamps.

It is hard when your drawing disability and your check is $750 a month. you can either pay your bills and go hungry or buy food and just let one of your bills go,” she said. 

She walks to her daughter’s home to shower and get water for her two dogs. Chapman is even unable to have her two grandkids over, because of her home’s temperature.

“The house has gas heat. I can’t even afford to get that turned on,” she said. “I never thought in a million years I’d be in the situation I’m in now, struggling.”

An employee at LaFollette Utilities said Monday they try to work with customers with financial hardships. While the utility has to work within the requirements of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the employee said they set up payment arrangements and defer deposits in order to help people maintain or restore service. 

The also have a program, similar to LIHEAP, called Caring Neighbors. It’s designed to help people pay their utility bill, also on a need-basis. However, having the power on is also a requirement. This wouldn’t help Chapman’s situation. 

For a list of LIHEAP service providers near you, click here

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