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Recession Hits Oregon Hard, Many Await Energy Assistance

February 25—More than 9,000 Oregon families are currently on waiting lists for Energy Assistance in addition to the thousands of households who have already received assistance or appointments. Moreover, agencies received more than 13,000 phone calls seeking assistance during the course of one week. Many of these households have a utility shutoff notice or are already disconnected.

Compared to this time last year, 55 percent more Oregon families are facing the prospect of disconnection of their utility services or have already been disconnected. Applications for assistance have risen 25 percent, and as unemployment in Coos and Curry counties has continued to grow, more families are in need every day.

Oregon Coast Community Action is consistently seeing hundreds of families in need each week, and more applications or requests for assistance come in every single day. This situation is reflected throughout the state, as demonstrated by the release of the 2009 Oregon Low-Income Energy Assistance Snapshot from the Community Action Partnership of Oregon and the Oregon Energy Coordinators Association. The 2009 Oregon Energy Assistance Snapshot provides a look into the current status of low-income energy assistance programs throughout Oregon, which has increased significantly through the deepening of the recession.

Statewide Community Action agencies report that even with increased funding, paying utility bills is insufficient to meet the needs of low-income Oregonians. Due to the recession and recent layoffs, many individuals and families seeking help are qualifying for energy assistance for the first time.

Despite the increasing needs of Oregonians struggling to pay their bills, electric rates increased by 5.6 percent in January. In 2008, the poorest families in Oregon paid more than 44 percent of their monthly income toward basic home heating costs. On average, a family of four living on an income at 50 percent of the federal poverty level survives on a monthly income of around $883.

In Coos and Curry counties, Oregon Coast Community Action's Energy Services Division is providing utility bill assistance and other heating assistance to hundreds of families each week. The waiting list for energy assistance continues to grow even as volunteers call families to schedule appointments every day.

"Oregon Coast Community Action Energy Services staff are seeing dozens of families every single day and we're helping as many eligible families as possible, even as hundreds of families continue to wait for our help," said Mary Schoen-Clark, CEO of Oregon Coast Community Action. "We are dedicated to helping all those in our community that we can, even though it might be some time before we can schedule each appointment. Please be patient with us. If you don't hear from us, please call us back. Alert our staff if you are in danger of losing your electricity due to a shut-off notice, and we will get you in as quickly as possible."

Source:  Curry County Reporter, Gold Beach, OR