Life already was financially tough over the past year for Stacey and Matt Meadors in East Toledo. But the sudden rise in heating bills this winter became the straw that broke their backs.
"I've been so stressed. I wake up in the middle of the night crying sometimes," said Mrs. Meadors. "It's been a struggle."
Their situation, although not necessarily typical, is an illustration of what soaring natural gas prices have meant to Toledo area homeowners, some of whom have had difficulty coping.
The first week of January the family received a bill for $650 from Columbia Gas of Ohio and a notice of termination of service if they didn't pay their delinquent bill of $396 from the month before.
"When you barely bring home $2,000 a month, how do they expect people to live?" Mrs. Meadors said.
The couple are burdened with shaky credit, a payment problem with their mortgage, and a Chapter 13 bankruptcy filed last summer. The Meadors, who have three children, hoped to get through the winter meeting their obligations, until the heating bills jumped by 400 percent.
Their bills in September and October were $50 to $70, Mrs. Meadors said.
Given the warnings late last summer that the Gulf Coast hurricane damage could result in a spike in natural-gas prices, the family took measures to hold down the heating bills in their house built in 1919.
They turned the thermostat down to 68 degrees. Some rooms are much colder than the living room, where the heat pours in. But the two-story house on Ellis Avenue doesn't have much insulation, has old windows, and leaks warm air like a sieve. The furnace is nearly 40 years old.
"We wanted to do something, but we don't have the money to fix up this house," Mrs. Meadors said.
"A new furnace is $3,000. Windows are more."
To help make ends meet, the family sought financial assistance in September through the state's Home Energy Assistance Program. Typically, it takes 10 weeks to receive the assistance which averages about $308 for the winter. That meant the funds should have been allocated at the end of November.
By yesterday, more than four months after the application was submitted, the funds hadn't arrive. Program officials said it's because they are swamped with requests; 230,000 people applied for this winter and 168,000 have been approved. The Meadors were told yesterday, after an inquiry by The Blade, that they were approved.
This month, the family also contacted the Toledo Economic Opportunity Planning Association, which helps residents once their heat has been shut off, which has not occurred at Meadors home.
The family also got Columbia Gas to put them on a budget bill, based on their income, and now pay $199 a month until the outstanding balance is gone.
The Meadors' annual income is about $32,000. Matt works for Envirosafe, a hazardous-waste facility in Oregon, and Stacey is a part-time postal carrier.
Money has been tight for the family for some time. The couple had difficulty making house payments in the past year and now must sell the house within six months to pay off the mortgage. They plan to rent a smaller, better insulated house in Wood County.
"At this point, I have had to make choices on what to pay or what not to pay," Mrs. Meadors said.
Still, she insisted she is not asking for community help or for people to feel sorry for her. "There are people worse off then us, like the elderly," Mrs. Meadors said.
Although last year was not a good year, she said, 2006 isn't starting out much better.
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