When one is able to stick their tongue out to taste the first snowflakes of winter and be able to play in the snow, it's a wonderful and exciting feeling. But when the winter weather is being a bit too frightful, it's nice to have a warm place to go. However, that warmth is costly especially with the way the economy is looking.
Though the price of gas seems to be going down little by little, the cost of everything else is still high. Groceries and common necessities are expensive and the high costs are forcing some families to either shrink their belts or their wallets. Some people might even consider putting off their monthly electric bill payments in order to pay other bills.
According to Dwight Sharp of the Department of Human Services in Salem, there currently are no programs in the county to help residents with their electric bills during the winter.
However, Leah Rouse, director of marketing at North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, said the cooperative is willing to work with those who might not be able to make their payments on time. "We give them (customers) extra time if they need it," Rouse said. She said the cooperative and the customer enter a delayed payment agreement when the customer calls before the bill's due date and tells them they don't have the money to pay at the moment. Rouse said the due date for electric bills is the 14th of every month. "(Those who can't pay this month) can extend their payment to the 14th of next month with the understanding that they will have to pay for two months of services," Rouse said.
Rouse also said that NAEC does not plan to change their rates "unless we have a rate increase. There's no plans in the future to do that."
The North Central Arkansas Development Council does have a program for people who are finding it difficult in this economy to pay for their heating bills. According to Gail Reeves, with the NCADC, Li-HEAP is a winter assistance program that helps those who can't afford their light bills.
According to Reeves, the program will pay up to $700 for heating and light bill costs. She said all the money goes straight to the supplier. The program helps those who get their energy or heat from propane, electricity, kerosene and wood.
Reeves said there are people who have already called for assistance. However, NCADC won't get the federal funds for the winter assistance program until Jan. 5.
"In the last couple of weeks, since it's got cold, we get about 30 calls per day (about the assistance program)," Reeves said. She said she has spoken to many people who have had their electricity turned off and are completely out of propane.
Linda Reeves, of Reeves Propane, said the propane company has received calls from customers not being able to pay their bills every day. Even though Linda Reeves said propane prices are lower now than they were during the summer, there are still people who are struggling. "Right now (heating costs) is a problem especially for the 60 plus (age) people," Linda Reeves said.
According to Linda Reeves, area churches, the Salvation Army in Mountain Home and the NCADC usually helps their customers out when they can't afford their bills.
The economy is the main source of these winter woes for many people who have been calling NCADC. "I can tell it's different this year than last year," Gail Reeves said. "The economy is in a lot worse shape than last year."
Gail Reeves said the economy isn't just affecting those who are retired and drawing a small pension or are on disability. She said she has received calls from people who have been laid off, families with children and single parents. "It's just been really rough for everyone," Gail Reeves said.
NCADC also does commodity food distributions. Gail Reeves said in one day NCADC signed-up 25 new customers. She said the next food distribution isn't until March. Between food distribution dates, NCADC directs people to local food banks.
For more information about NCADC's winter assistance program call either the Salem, Melbourne or Ash Flat office. The Salem office can be reached at 895-3628, the Melbourne office at 368-4329 and the Ash Flat office at 994-7353.