Xcel Energy estimates customers across the state will see a 12 percent increase in their heating bills this December. While this may mean bad news for many reeling from a slumping national economy, the government says there are ways to get help.
Energy bills across the Grand Valley are heating up as the price of natural gas continues to rise, putting more financial strain on people like Teresa Burris.
"It's like oh my gosh, one more thing," said Burris.
And she's not the only one. The Mesa County Department of Human Services says a slumping national economy is taking its toll on many in the Valley -- and increased energy costs aren't helping.
"A lot of folks are being laid off and losing their jobs," said Karen Marsolf, Public Information Officer for the Department of Human Services. "The senior population in our community is often on fixed incomes and so as energy costs continue to rise, they simply don't have that extra money at the end of the month to adjust to perhaps double energy costs."
The situation is even forcing some to take more drastic steps. The Mesa County Sheriff's Office is investigating a case where someone broke into a utility box to turn on their power after it had been shut off because of non-payment.
But county officials say it doesn't have to be that way. Over the past several years, the county has helped many families pay their energy bills with the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program, or LEAP. It's a program that gives families an average of $250 to help pay for heating from November through April.
"The LEAP benefits often make a difference between buying prescription medication, having groceries they need to feed their families, or paying heating costs," said Martsolf. "So it is critical to many households in our community."
Burris says it has been especially critical for her.
It's been a great program for me," said Burris. "I'm a single mom with twins and it just really helps out a lot."
Last year, about 4,600 families received LEAP benefits. Officials say with the tough economic times, they expect that number to change.
"We anticipate that we will be assisting more households this year than last year," said Martsolf.
Officials say a family of four who makes $3,200 a month will qualify for LEAP benefits. They encourgae anyone who thinks they might be eligible to fill out an application.
The Mesa County Department of Human Services will start accpeting applications on November 3 at the Community Services building on 29 1/2 Road. Residents can apply for LEAP benefits anytime from November through April.
For more information, call the Department of Human Services at (970) 241-8480.