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United Way of Tarrant County sees requests rise for electric-bill aid

Requests for help to pay soaring electric bills increased significantly as the August heat wave descended on North Texas, social-service workers say.

Vicki Mize, manager of United Way of Tarrant County's 211 Texas, said aid requests rose 26 percent in the first 10 days of the month compared with the same period last year. Calls for fans and air conditioners have more than tripled.

"We are encouraging people who don't have air [conditioning] to either stay with family or friends or visit a cooling center," Mize said. "If they are eligible for the weatherization program, we can refer them [for that]. If they are eligible for bill payments, we refer them to Catholic Charities, Community Action Partners or other social-service agencies to get help with bills."

Sara Ramirez, vice president for development and public relations at Catholic Charities, said fans are still available. Calls for help with bills have increased monthly since spring, she added.

"In May, we received 2,408 calls," she said. "In June, it was 4,819. In the first two weeks of July, we got 3,108 calls. You can see the progression of calls coming into the agency."

Ramirez said most calls were related to financial assistance for rent or utilities.

"Typically, when people need help paying rent, it's because they've paid so much on the electric bill they can't make their rent," she said.

Directors at two other agencies said they expect the requests to snowball later this month or early next month, when utility bills generated during the last several days reach customers.

Gerald Smith of the Tarrant County human services department said his office doesn't see the effects of extreme weather until the bills come due.

"Right now, it's a public health issue of trying to stay cool or safe," he said. "The natural increases of summertime expenses will become very real as people's billing cycles come through."

Jan McMullen of Community Action Partners agreed.

"Their bills are higher now, but not as high as they will be the next time," she said. "The triple-digit weather was the last couple of weeks, and they haven't gotten those bills yet."

Terry Evans, 817-390-7620

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