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Chicanos Por La Causa utility assistance program out of money

The nonprofit assisted 891 applicants in seven months, nearly the same number of people helped almost all of last year.

PHOENIX — Sandra Zuniga is a single mother of three. Her 23-year-old son was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and her 15-year-old with severe autism. She is low income, and at times struggles to afford her bills.

“More in the summer when the bill is more expensive,” Zuniga told 12News about what time of the year is financially the hardest for her.

She stays afloat thanks in part to Chicanos Por La Causa and their family assistance program, that in partnership with Arizona Public Service, helps residents pay off their electricity bills.

But this year the demand has been so high that money has run out midyear.

“We saw there was an increase in those fundings,” said Marissa Calderon, associate director of family empowerment at CPLC.

Calderon said more people have asked the organization for help this year because of rising prices in rent and food.

In the first seven months of this year, CPLC has assisted 891 applicants through its family assistance program. That number is nearly the same amount of people that were helped almost all of last year — 944 in 11 months.

Calderon said they expect more people to reach out for help, consistent with what they’ve seen so far, “it doesn’t stop.”

CPLC is in the process of looking for other funding sources and is referring residents to community partners that may have discretionary funds that can be used for utility assistance.

The nonprofit is also helping cover other household spending needs, like providing back-to-school items such as uniforms, shoes and backpacks, as well as running a weekly food distribution.

“Right now, we see it as something that we know is a challenge, is ongoing and we’re going to do our best,” Calderon said.

In 2021, 677 applicants were processed and received assistance from the program during a 10-month period. In 2020, that number was 1,323.

While CPLC works on getting more people’s assistance, Zuniga is grateful she applied in time and got help paying off her electricity bill.

“It would have been hard,” the single mother said. “I wouldn’t have an AC right now; they would have already shut it off.”

12News reached out to APS, asking if additional funds would be granted to CPLC to help the remainder of this year. In a statement, the company said their Crisis Bill Assistance “is available for customers through additional organizations.”

Here’s the full statement:

APS supports customers and partners with over 100 regional local non-profits and agencies, during the summer months and year-round, to assist individuals experiencing financial hardship or with limited income. This year, we provided $4 million in Crisis Bill Assistance to be distributed to APS customers throughout the state.

 Chicanos Por La Causa is a longstanding partner and, like other organizations we work with, has helped us meaningfully connect utility support to customers most in need. Through our partnerships with agencies, we provide support to tens of thousands of customers each year. APS Crisis Bill Assistance continues to be available for customers through additional organizations. 

 We have multiple resources to assist those in need. Our energy support program provides $33 million in discounts to more than 74,000 limited income customers and last year, combined, about 66,000 customers received another $33 million in utility bill assistance from the full range of programs available.

 If customers are having trouble paying their bill, we can help with other assistance resources and flexible payment arrangement programs. In addition, we will not disconnect residential customers for nonpayment, and we are waiving late fees, through October 15, 2023. We encourage customers to reach out so we can help them stay on track with their energy bills. To learn more or get help, visit aps.com/assistance or call us at (602) 371-7171.

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