East Texas Consumers Struggle to Stay Cool in Summer

The heat index rose above a hundred Friday, making it harder to live without air conditioning.

Many Tyler residents sat by fans or turned their thermostats lower to stay cool. But with warmer weather, comes higher electricity bills, and many seniors and families on fixed incomes have trouble paying for it.

The good news is there are organizations out there trying to help. PATH in Tyler pays one electricity bill per year for families in need. The non-profit accepts a limited number of applicants and only accomodates TXU customers.

"One of the reasons we became involved is because we didn't want, especially in the summer, for people not to run their air conditioner because they were worried about their electric bills," says Sherlon Spurling, director of client services with Path. Spurling says PATH tries to accommodate as many families as possible, but funding is limited. The agency requires a one-on-one interview with clients before they hand out funding.

Another option is the Community Action Program, which helps families living 125 percent below the federal poverty level with electricity bills.

If you'd like to get in touch with the Community Action Program for assistance, residents in Smith County can call (903) 592-3828. The number for Gregg County is 903-758-5674.

But if an energy company does shut off  the power, it's important for consumers to know what rights they have.

Energy companies cannot disconnect service if the heat index has been above 105 for two days prior," says Terry Hadley, a spokesperson for the Public Utility Commission. On the flip side, Hadley says, there's no law requiring energy companies to reconnect power that was turned off before the heat advisory hit.

TXU spokesperson Kimberly Morgan says, utility companies would handle those cases on a one by one basis. Morgan says, the power company tries to do everything they can to assist families in tough situations. But adds, the best way to prevent loss of power is to address the problem with providers early on and work out a payment plan.