Enormous utility bills push mother of 3 to the financial brink

The steamy summer months have arrived. That means as our ACs start to crank, and utility bills will climb with the mercury. But a few enormous utility bills had one single mom from New Jersey teetering on the edge of eviction.

When 7 on your Side met Leak and her three-year-old daughter back in March, they were wearing coats inside their apartment, because she was afraid to turn up the heat.

Leak can't pay her monthly bills for the all electric apartment her family moved into last September. Her first bill arrived in January. For the past four months combined, it topped 12 hundred dollars. The next month it was $800 more. In March it was almost $3,000 and by April, Leak got a shut-off notice. She owed PSE & G $3,604.57.

"I've been making small payments, I started a payment plan," said Leak.

Even though she enrolled in a deferred payment agreement in February, Leak was still expected to pay the full amount of current monthly bill plus an additional $225 per month toward the previous balance.

It was simply unattainable for the young mother to keep up with the bill. She asked her landlord AND PSE & G for help figuring out why her bills were so high.

She went to a local non-profit for help getting a job, and a counselor at the Women's Rights Info Center directed her to 7 On Your Side.

7 on your Side reached out to the utility. First, inspectors switched out her old meter for testing.

Next PSE&G determined the cause of the high bills averaging $6-$800 a month was electric heat. Leak admits throughout winter the thermostat at times was at 80.

Next, the utility enrolled the family in its 'Fresh Start Program.' Approved to receive the maximum of $150/month from the state service fund, she's also getting almost $1,500 from the Home Energy Assistance Program.

If Leak pays her bill every month, her entire balance of $2,381.20 gets wiped away, meaning she will never have to pay it.

"Thank you so much, you guys were wonderful and very patient and obviously very effective," said Leak.

The big takeaway is where can you go for assistance with utility bills?

Federal and local government grants. Locally , in New York - the HEAP program allows you to apply for assistance if you're low on fuel or facing a utility shut off notice.

Next, you can apply for help from charities. The big ones, like the Red Cross and smaller ones like local religious organizations offer help. You just have to apply.

And finally, your own utility company has a list of programs. If you qualify you can get on a payment plan or have bills deferred as Leak experienced.


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