With heating costs expected to spike, charities anticipate more people needing help

From groceries to clothing, prices for many things have risen dramatically in recent months. And come winter, you can expect to also spend a lot more to heat your home.

In fact, projections from the National Energy Assistance Directors Association find that we could see a 10-year high when it comes to heating costs this year. And this news is concerning D.C.-area charities that help families with their utility bills.

“We’re already seeing a rise with the electric costs, and a lot of our clients … use electricity for heat, and their income is already being impacted, where they’re not earning enough to make rent and utilities,” said Mary McNamee, senior case coordinator for the Loudoun regional office of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington.

According to the NEADA, the cost of heating a home with electricity, compared with last winter, will be up 6.9% — an average of around $86 a bill.

But a bigger spike will be seen by people who depend on oil and natural gas to heat their homes.

Heating oil costs are expected to be up by 12.8% — or around $239 on average for a home. Natural gas will go up a jaw-dropping 34.3% — or about $243 a bill on average, according to the organization that represents the state directors of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

“They’re having to choose to put gas in their vehicles to get to work to earn something, and then they have to choose … rent is next and then utilities are last,” McNamee said.

A lot of families the organization has helped, she said, are already having trouble keeping up with all of the expenses. This includes some who are still on payment plans to catch up on utility bills they were unable to pay during the pandemic.

“They have to pay the current utility, plus this payment plan amount, and there’s no way they’re going to do it,” McNamee said.

She said that will lead to more people getting service disconnections — and coming to charity organizations for help.

Mary Shaffrey, a spokesperson for the Arlington diocese, said that in preparation for an expected spike in heating costs, Christ House in Alexandria is already buying new blankets to distribute to families.

According to Catholic Charities of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, there has been a 47% increase in assistance needs since the pandemic began. In fact, the diocese spent $6.5 million between this summer and last on food, rent, utilities and medical assistance for those in need.

At the Salvation Army’s National Capital Area Command, Cmdr. Maj. Mark Woodcock said they will help as many people as they can this winter through the money they receive from the Washington Area Fuel Fund, which is run in partnership with Washington Gas, but he said it’s impossible to help everyone.

“There’s no doubt we’re overwhelmed with calls, and it can be discouraging to be quite frank with you,” Woodcock said. “Because you often see what you don’t do instead of what you are doing because the need is so great.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the spokesperson for Catholic Diocese of Arlington. The story has since been corrected to state Mary Shaffrey, as the spokesperson for the diocese.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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