If anything can aggravate the challenges and miseries of poverty, extreme weather can do the trick. And with summer about a week old in Central Texas, a group of nonprofit leaders, scholars and TXU officials say help is available, including in keeping the utilities turned on as the temperatures rise.
That’s especially relevant in our area. As F. Carson Mencken, professor of sociology and director of the Baylor Religion Survey, remarked at a Wednesday press conference at the Baylor University School of Social Work, 2014 Census data show McLennan County with a poverty rate of 24.8 percent — strikingly higher than the state’s poverty rate of 17 percent.
One fair indication of poverty: the number of us on fixed governmental incomes or support, such as Social Security, disability or welfare. The data indicate that 23 percent of households in McLennan County are on such fixed incomes; and the percentage is closer to 30 in outlying counties, contrasted with a statewide average that is less than half that — 14 percent. Makes you wonder some about that “Texas miracle.”
None of this is new, but that doesn’t make the problem easier to combat. While Mencken says that our poverty picture isn’t as dire as data indicated in 2000 — when McLennan County figured in the top 5 percent of poorest Texas counties — representatives from Caritas of Waco, Economic Opportunities Advancement Corp. and the local branch of the Salvation Army say that the need they see daily continues unabated.
While each of these agencies deals with various needs, Caritas executive director Buddy Edwards says helping the poor through difficult periods with their utility bills is a “more and more important aspect of what we’re doing.” Jennifer Caballero, director of social services for the Salvation Army, says helping get the air conditioning running can “put someone on a pathway to hope.”
These three agencies have good folks to contact if you know someone who is having trouble paying his or her utility bills. For instance, Carla Minniefield of the local EOAC office tells us that it has a utility assistance program for low-income households in a six-county area as well as a household crisis fund that can help in such matters.
While agencies and nonprofits get funds from a variety of sources to help the poor keep their utilities turned on, we tip our hat to TXU Energy. It reportedly matches contributions from our community, with the total going to benefit the needy folks among us. We’re told it’s the largest electricity bill-payment assistance program of all competitive electricity providers in the United States.
And TXU Energy Aid is not tied to federal income levels. That means, TXU officials say, “any TXU Energy customer who falls into financial crisis because of a job loss, unexpected medical bills or other situations can get help.” And that can make summer in Texas a whole lot more bearable.