Most of us take running utilities for granted—we flip on a light to read, turn up the thermostat when it’s cold, and put our food in the fridge to keep it from spoiling. But imagine this for a minute—what if you couldn’t afford to pay your utility bills and your utilities were shut off?
Financial crises wreak havoc on a family’s stability, and that’s especially heartbreaking when there are children involved. Basic needs like utilities are often affected. In fact, not being able to pay a utility bill is more common than you might think. To give you an idea of the widespread nature of this problem, 1 in 3 Americans struggles to pay energy bills each year, and 1 in 5 has to cut back on other necessities to keep the lights on.
The Need in Oregon
The Oregon Energy Fund was set up in 1989 to help Oregonians who find themselves unable to pay their bills during financial instability. This reprieve gives them a little time to get back on their feet and find a more stable financial position without having to worry about how they’re going to meet their most basic needs.
In Oregon, the need for utility bill assistance has only risen as our cost of living has increased dramatically over the past decade. In addition, our weather has become less temperate, meaning that bills are higher than they used to be.
Why Utility Bills
When people have an unexpected bill come up, they are often forced to take money from monthly necessities like food and utilities in order to pay it. This can cause a snowball effect of late fees, missed bills, and further debt. This stress can lead to other problems like job loss, health problems, and even eviction or foreclosure. In fact, this study found that the inability to pay utility bills is the second leading cause of homelessness!
But if someone steps in and pays those bills, the cycle can be stopped, allowing people the breathing room to get their finances in order. It’s a relatively simple and inexpensive way to make a big difference for people facing financial hardship.
How the Oregon Energy Fund Works
The Oregon Energy Fund is the only statewide nonprofit that exists specifically to help people with utility needs. The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the Oregon Energy Assistance Program are federal and state programs that provide long-term assistance with utilities, but they don’t have nearly enough resources to help all of the people in need.
These other programs are also limited to low-income households, but higher income households can also find themselves in need of help with their utility bills. The Oregon Energy Fund fills that gap by helping people with higher incomes, too.
The Oregon Energy Fund distributes funds through over 30 partner agencies throughout the state, allowing them to reach as many people as efficiently as possible. In fact, they’ve recently partnered with three new agencies to allow them to reach even more communities that typically don’t get utility assistance.
Once approved, payments are made directly to the utility company (it takes about three to six weeks for this to happen, in most cases).
Want to Help?
If you’re the kind of person who wants to make sure your money is actually making a difference, the Oregon Energy Fund does a great job of making sure you know exactly how you’re helping. (Scroll down to see fiscal reports.)
I love this section filled with stories and pictures of people who have directly benefited from the Oregon Energy Fund.
If you’d like to donate, just go here. Occasionally, utility companies will offer to match your donation, increasing your impact. I applaud the Oregon Energy Fund and the work they’re doing to help people stay financially stable. Let’s do what we can to help!