Upside of the Downturn: Learning to Survive the Hard Times

  • Susanna Grove and the ?perfect house.?

    Susanna Grove and the ?perfect house.?

By Sue Groves

I was thrilled last year when I found a house in Pine Mountain with a loft, a ton of natural light and an amazing view—all for a rent not even half of what I’d been paying in North Hollywood for much less space. It seemed perfect for beginning my first year trying to live on under $16,000 a year in Social Security after an operation. I was so pleased with the house, I missed a few vital details.

Once I received that first shocking propane bill for $829, I quickly learned I was seeing my amazing view through rosecolored glasses and single-paned windows. I had signed the lease with no idea there was a difference between double-pane and single-pane windows. I didn’t know that in the mountains, “double pane” makes all the difference between staying snug versus paying to heat the surrounding forest eight months of the year.

After I got over my shock, I went to the Family Resource Center for help. The Friends of Seniors Resource Guide suggested the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP). It is not a crisis program, but a rebate program to offset the costs of energy for low-income households once every 12 months. HEAP also has a program to weatherize homes for low income renters and homeowners.

Southern California Edison offers two ways to get a discount on electric bills: California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE), for a discount of 20 percent or more on your electric bill and the Family Electric Rate Assistance (FERA) program with a discount to qualified households of three or more people who exceed their baseline usage by over 30 percent. Neither program is retroactive, so the sooner you apply, the better.

In Los Angeles County I received food stamps. I was told that in Kern County, I “make too much money on Social Security to qualify.” If someone in Washington, D.C. has decided the cost of living in L.A. County is higher than in Kern County, they haven’t seen my propane bill. Utility bills here have been exponentially higher than I ever paid to the Southern California Gas Company or L.A.’s Department of Water and Power.

With no cell service in Pine Mountain, I had to get a land line through AT&T. They offer the California Lifeline program that saves $11 per month, but it costs almost as much as a cell phone, since most my calls are beyond the 661 area code.

Cable TV and the internet are quickly becoming luxuries I may not be able to afford anymore. I still have to pay for car insurance, gas, car registration, prescriptions and co-pays at the doctors’ office. Last, but certainly not least in my life, are the care and feeding of my dog and cat—the only grounding sanity I have right now.

I’m still searching for ways to survive on Social Security, but, right now, it seems unlikely. I’m open to suggestions.

Resources in this story:

  • Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) at (1-800-988-7771)
  • Southern California Edison (1-800-655-4555) for California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE) and Family Electric Rate Assistance (FERA)
  • AT&T California Lifeline program at 1-877-858-7463
  • Family Resources Center for Food Stamps applications and Friends of Seniors Resource Guide: 3015 Mt. Pinos Way, 2nd Floor, Frazier Park (245-4303)

This is part of the June 26, 2009 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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