Nonprofit Faces Challenges Helping Residents With Heating Costs

With temperatures dropping, keeping residents warm is an ongoing challenge for an area nonprofit.

The Keep Wisconsin Warm Fund is dealing with budget cuts.

Tim Bruer, executive director of the Keep Wisconsin Warm Fund, said an estimated 13,000 Dane County households will request assistance to pay heating bills by the end of the winter season.

"Heat, which is a basic necessity, is becoming an unaffordable luxury," Bruer said.

He said even with an unseasonably warm winter, the need for assistance doesn't lessen.

The fund also works to help with cooling bills in the hot months. Bruer said a record 3,000 households applied for assistance the last three months of summer.

"We actually saw more people coming in both to keep their power on but also paying for last year's heating costs," Bruer said.

Bruer said the fund is also contending with budget cuts.

The Federal Home Energy Assistance Program for low-income households provides a one-time grant per heating season. Grants went from $360 last year to $166 this year.

Bruer said he fears that by February, many households will exhaust their one-time grant.

"What you're seeing really is that people because of pride, in the past who have not come forward, are now coming forward," said Bruer. "Or, those who are the poorest of the poor, who really have no place to turn in crisis are contacting our organization"

Madison Gas and Electric, which refers customers to the Keep Wisconsin Warm Fund, said the number of people seeking advice on paying high bills is down significantly. MG&E credited the mild winter and low natural gas prices for the decline.

For more information on the Keep Wisconsin Warm Fund, go to http://www.kwwf.org/contribute/.