Requests for money to pay electric bills are increasing at the Episcopal Metropolitan Ministry on McCallie Avenue, ministry officials say.
“All nonprofits always run on a shoestring budget,” said the Rev. John D. Talbird Jr., who coordinates Episcopalian mission efforts in Southeast Tennessee. “It’s (power bills) a stretch for us. For the people we serve, it’s catastrophic.”
Two weeks ago, the ministry’s clients’ greatest need was help paying power bills, he said, ahead of paying rent or buying food. The ministry, which gets the bulk of its money from local churches and individuals, now has more clients than it can serve, Mr. Talbird said.
United Way distributes money to area nonprofit agencies to help them pay low-income clients’ utility bills. The funds are provided by customers of EPB, Chattanooga Gas Co. and Tennessee-American Water Co. who elect to pay extra on their monthly bills.
The majority of the program is funded by EPB clients through the Power Share program, said John Hayes, director of United Way’s 211 call center, which helps low-income residents with utility bills.
Dr. Hayes said United Way has seen a 47 percent increase in requests for utility payment assistance from January to August from a year ago. The agency has distributed $44,978 through August to pay electric, water and gas bills, he said.
The agency distributed $59,221 in all of last year, so the United Way will run out of funds before year’s end, he said. And the agency has received slightly less utility assistance funding this year than it did last year, he said.
“It becomes a decision for a lot of people working at entry-level jobs or mid-level jobs to buy gas for their car to get to work, or do you pay for utilities which are going up, or do you pay for rent,” Dr. Hayes said.
The size of the typical electric bill that local United Way-affiliated agencies have been asked to pay has risen from $108 in 2006 to $133 last year for the average low-income client, he said.