Pamela Martin stands by a school bus stop to greet one of three children who she supports on a government check. She receives it due to a learning disability. It's not much, but it pays the bills. That is until a new electric meter was installed and a bill six times higher than usual arrived. Martin said, " My light bill when it first came out was way high and I didn't know what to do."
Then there's 69 year old Olivia Parks. She worked all her life, but social security isn't enough to pay her high electric bills. Parks said, " I've always been on the independent side. I've always worked and I never had to ask anybody for help."
Both women and many others are asking Greater East Texas Community Action for financial assistance. In recent months, the number of applications has doubled. Many are first time applicants, like Martin. Martin remembers what it was like calling. " Felt kinda scary, shocked, didn't know if they would help but they did. They went through it and helped me through it."
But there are limits to what even Community Action can do. Director, Karen Swenson said, "Unfortunately, we don't have enough funds to assist everyone. I wish we did, but we just don't." Applicants are granted help only three times, so energy conservation measures are encouraged.
Mrs Parks has always had high bills so she knows to try to do everything she can to lower it. Even if it means not being able to see outside. She places foil over the window. In addition Mrs Parks shuts doors to unused rooms, and uses fans. Parks said from her mobile home, " Even a rich person would grumble about these big high electric bills and they have plenty of money, so we're just poor groups of people."
Numbers can lead to action, specifically class action suits. Attorney David Guillory said, " If you didn't consume this much electricity you shouldn't pay for this much electricity. You wouldn't consider over paying in any other area of your life. You wouldn't consider overpaying for groceries or gasoline or anything else, so one option is to fight it." Attorneys are waiting for a response from TXU.
In the meantime, East Texans must learn to cope with rising energy costs. Pamela Martin is planning to move into a more energy efficient home. And Olivia Parks continues to block out the light of day in the effort to fight a power struggle.
Greater East Texas Community Action serves the low income in a six county area. http://www.getcap.org/