CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WOWK) — Experts say the average cost of heating a home is projected to increase by 17% this winter. Groups in our area that help people who are facing utility termination are preparing for a tough year.

“You know people are still recuperating from COVID or high bills that they’ve gotten on payment arrangements or whatever from last year. Or from the summer with high air conditioning costs,” said Vandalyn Justice.

Justice has worked at the Salvation Army in Social Services for many years. Right now, she says the requests for help are overwhelming and the bills themselves are sometimes well over $1,000.

“It is definitely challenging because you don’t want to tell someone who needs help that you can’t help, especially when it comes down to heat or electric,” Justice said.

She said one of the biggest problems is that heating isn’t the only thing that is costing more these days.

“They are paying more for food, more for gas, more for childcare, more for clothes, more for everything really,” she explained.

The West Virginia Public Service Commission expressed concerns recently about the effect increasing energy prices are having on customers. They reminded those struggling to start by calling WV 211. That is a 24-hour-7-days-a-week resource for referrals to help connect those in need with options.

“Utility assistance is the number one need we see across the state. I’m sure as it gets colder outside we’ll continue to see that increase,” said April Knight, State Director for WV 211.

In 2021, the hotline made 79,000 total referrals in West Virginia. Of those, 44,000 were connections to assistance paying utility bills.

“Most of our calls are people who are late on a bill, fearing a termination notice or maybe their electric has already been cut off and we need to get them in contact with some resources quickly,” Knight said.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) operates the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) for a short time each winter, usually beginning with a mail-out to targeted households.

In addition, LIEAP applications are accepted during a specified application period. Those with a termination notice may qualify for Emergency LIEAP. You can find out more about that option by contacting your local DHHR office.