Krista Barnes’ week began with a utility shutoff notice, but it ended with the promise of a better tomorrow for her and her two daughters.
The Barnes family was one of 444 households approved for heating assistance in the first week SNAP began accepting applications for the season.
“It’s a huge relief. My power is not going to be shut off,” said Barnes, who is three months behind on her Avista bills because she broke her ankle this summer, preventing her from working for seven weeks.
She received her shutoff notice on Monday, began trying to get an appointment with SNAP on Tuesday, finally got through to an adviser at the Northeast Community Center on Thursday, and qualified for assistance on Friday.
The 35-year-old single mother has now returned part time to her job as a pharmacy technician in training.
She believes the help with her heating bill will be just the edge she needs to get by this winter.
At the Northeast Community Center, SNAP coordinator Marianne DeMarco said the phone lines have been swamped all week with people seeking appointments.
“Everybody can’t be first,” DeMarco said. “But we are going to have enough money to get us through the winter.”
Since Oct. 23, SNAP has made nearly 1,500 appointments at locations throughout the city, received nearly 700 applications and spent about $187,000 in federal and local heating assistance funds.
So great is the demand for energy assistance that the SNAP office at Northeast Community Center has cut back on its food bank “to give priority to heating emergencies,” DeMarco said.
Last year, nearly $9 million in energy assistance was distributed to a record 17,820 households.
This year’s numbers could be higher because of the economic downturn, SNAP spokesman Ron Hardin said.
“We are seeing a lot of new people that are recently unemployed,” Hardin said.
Approval for energy assistance is based on the past three months’ income, so the recently laid-off might consider waiting a month or two to apply.