Marian Rosero, a volunteer at American Red Cross offices in Salt Lake City, is getting a firsthand look at the effects the tough economic times are having on many of the state's financially struggling families.
For the past two years she has served as a utility analyst helping Utah families sign up for Rocky Mountain Power's "Lend a Hand" and Questar Gas Co.'s "Reach" programs, which help low-income households with senior and disabled family members pay their energy bills.
"When I started volunteering, most of the people were coming in during the winter, but since last fall we've been really, really busy and there has been no letup," she said. "And many of the people we are seeing now are people who are not used to asking for help."
Rocky Mountain Power's and Questar's programs are funded through contributions from the company's employees and from customers who return donation envelopes periodically sent out with their utility bills.
Customers also can contact both Rocky Mountain Power and Questar Gas and ask them to add a fixed monthly donation to their monthly bills or contact the Utah chapter of the American Red Cross to contribute.
"In the current economic environment, assistance with utility payments can make a big difference for many families," said Susan Thomas, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross in Utah.
For the year ended June 30, Rocky Mountain Power company donated approximately $400,000 for its program, with around $302,000 coming from the company and nearly $98,000 from its customers and employees, spokeswoman Margaret Oler said. "That was about $21,000 less than in the previous year."
Still, that was enough to provide assistance to help about 2,000 Utahns pay their electricity bills.
Questar Gas, its shareholders and customers donated approximately $350,000 to fund its Reach program, which also was enough to help nearly 2,000 families. "For us, those donations remain fairly steady year-to-year," said Darren Shepherd, a Questar Gas spokesman.
Utahns who qualify can receive up to $200 annually from each program.
Before someone can qualify for the Reach and Lend a Hand programs, though, he or she must have qualified to participate in the federally funded, state-run HEAT program, which offers an annual payment to help struggling families pay their utility bills.
How to apply:
O To contact the local HEAT office in your county • http://housing.utah.gov/seal/offices.html.
To apply for Reach and Lend a Hand assistance, contact the American Red Cross in Utah at 1-801-323-7017.