Kids & Family

One Year Without Electricity, Family Reaches Out For Help

With her parents getting older and stuck without electricity for more than a year, a daughter reached out to Sparkt and Marty Griffin for help

This isn't just a tragic story about one family's struggle with no electricity, it's a story of how they came together to get through it until they reached a breaking point and finally asked for help.

Robin and Lee Howatineck live with their 23 year old daughter, Haylee, in North Huntingdon. They hit hard times and ended up getting the power shutoff after failing to get caught up on a nearly $8,000 utility bill. For 15 months they struggled with no electricity until a desperate Haylee Howatineck reached out to Sparkt and Marty Griffin.

How did the Howatineck's get into this predicament in the first place? It didn't happen overnight. It started when they fell on hard times with health challenges and employment issues. They were unable to cover the cost of a larger-than-typical power bill. They did the right thing at first by contacting their utility company, West Penn Power , which put them on what's called a Consumer Assistance Program or CAP . This program allowed them to pay a percentage of their bill based on income, as determined by the utility. Some CAP programs even forgive some past utility debt as long as you keep making payments.

In the Howatineck's case the family failed to keep paying the discounted rate, which meant that, under the CAP rules, their bill retroactively converted back to the full amount. That's how they ended up with that nearly $8000 bill and and were shutoff.

It turns out they reached out to Marty for help at just the right time. CAP is normally a one-time deal. When Marty asked his friend Chad Quinn, CEO at the Dollar Energy Fund for advice, Quinn discovered that the Howatineck's were eligible for the CAP once more because of FirstEnergy's acquisition of West Penn Power in 2011.

The main lesson we all can learn from their experience is to contact your utility company immediately when you know you won't be able to pay your bill in full. If you do qualify for an assistance program, keep up with your payments or you can be legally disconnected.

We've learned that there's plenty of help. All you have to do is ask for it.

We've put together a follow-up story for you "Can't Pay Your Utility Bill?" Don't Sit in the Dark". that has comprehensive information on how you can get help if you're in trouble with your utility bills.

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