Families Struggle With Natural Gas Price Hike and Utility Aid Cuts

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COLUMBIA - Ameren Missouri began increasing natural gas prices by an average of $39.64 a year per household on Friday. The changes affect customers in Columbia, Jefferson City, Mexico, Wentzville, Cape Girardeau and Marble Hill.

On top of that rate increase, Missouri received nearly $3 million less than last year in energy assistance funds from the federal government. Central Missouri Community Action (CMCA) in Columbia runs a utility aid program that uses the assistance funds. 

"We ran out of funding the second week of February for our winter crisis assistance program," CMCA Community Services Director Angela Hirsch said.

Martin Hardin benefits from the the program, Low Income Home and Energy Assistance (LIHEAP) through CMCA. It provides assistance to the elderly, disabled and poor on utility bills so they can keep their heat on during the winter. Hardin lives with his wife and son and suffers from frequent heart attacks and strokes, making it hard to keep a steady job.   

"If you don't have a steady income and it's like, gas prices are always high, it's been at least in the last 14 years, at least 7 times, I've been without gas service," Hardin said. 

Hardin said that without CMCA, many Boone County families would struggle.

"If it wasn't for CMCA, a lot of people, and I've known a lot of people that would have been evicted,"  Hardin said.

Hirsch said the increase in natural gas prices and funding cuts makes it hard on the families she works with. 

"It's really caused us to serve fewer families than we have in years past. We've also seen a dramatic increase in costs of propane, so that increase and that cost mirrored with the cut in funding that we received meant that we served about seven percent fewer families this year than we did last year." 

Hirsch said 267 families are on the wait-list for crisis funds.  She said CMCA refers families to other resources like churches in the community for utility bill aid, but every organization is struggling with budget cuts.