From the quiet comfort of my couch, I’ve enjoyed a restful break in a comfortably heated and well-insulated home with my children, as the wind chill dropped to -31degrees, the second coldest temperature on record ever in Louisville. During that time, my mind was never far from the utility crisis looming over so many of the people we serve at Americana. Today this crisis tops my list of worries as a non-profit leader as the Low Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP) which opened today has closed all appointments within an hour of opening the online scheduler.
I cannot stop thinking about the line out the door of our offices in early December filled with people looking to our case managers for help to keep the electricity on this month. Maria’s case particularly hit home for me. Like me, Maria is a 35-year-old single mother juggling the demands of work, home, and parenthood as best she is able. Unlike me, Maria’s family lives in a country far away and they are even less prepared to lend any financial support should there be any bumps in the road. Maria’s life exists in Spanish, but the world around her is built on English, and unlike me; Maria has no computer or Wi-fi at home to connect to community resources in an ever more exclusively digital plane.
Anxiously swaying a two-year-old on her hip, she relayed her story of falling behind on rent due to an injury and the high price of child care limiting her ability to work. Even with rental assistance, there wasn’t enough to cover the cost of her rising utility bill. It was cold in the prior month of November and her bill was unusually high. She had already relented to a payment plan with LG&E preventing disconnection last month, but now she owed the entire previous month, plus a late fee, and the new month's amount. The LIHEAP scheduling system closed within hours of opening that day too; All appointments were filled by those lucky enough to access the site in time and tech-savvy enough to use it. The only other respite, the local community ministries, had been out of money for months. She presented the bill and said, “If I can’t pay today, we will be disconnected and my 2-year-old son and I will be without heat.”
The possibility that children could freeze to death in their homes in our city is a humanitarian crisis rivaling ones so many have fled to escape. The resentment and powerlessness of witnessing a parent living in the balance of dollars between disconnection or another 30 days of heat pale in comparison to their personal experience in these moments. Unfortunately, these moments open unhealed wounds that echo back through a chain of traumatic experiences haunting people since their departure from their home countries. As we turn the page into 2023, in this country of such abundance and wealth there should never be more need than what is being met. How can it be that anyone here could be reduced to these indignities which threaten the safety of their families?
Thankfully, Americana was able to tap into a meager emergency assistance fund and square Maria’s account in December. I hope she and her son enjoyed a restful break in a comfortably heated and well-insulated home, like I did. I can guarantee that families like hers will cue in a line outside our doors before the month is out, hoping against hope that we can help them because this winter is not over and they are not out of the woods yet. I’m hoping against hope that we can help them as we’ve helped her. So I’m asking you now to give what you can to the Americana Emergency Assistance Fund. Our goal is to raise $5,000 in emergency client assistance. Please help us reach our goal so that families in our community can retain the dignity and stability we all deserve.