Heating bills continue to grow as federal assistance decreases

Winter weather is causing a worrisome rise in heating costs for many local families.

This winter, single mother Christine Mullen will sacrifice more than she ever has before to keep her little boy safe and warm in their Manassas townhouse.

Despite having medical worries that need to be attended to, Mullen can’t afford health coverage for herself and uses the money to keep the heat on in her house.

"I have a lump in my upper chest on the left hand side. I've just been putting it off, putting it off because I don't have the insurance and I don't have the money for the ultrasound,” she said. “It’s very scary.”

Mullen can't keep up with the bills even though she works every day as a massage therapist. She has been receiving notices that the heat will be disconnected.

“It gets cut off today if it's not paid," he says.

She keeps most of the lights off. Turns the thermostat down low. The TV is shut off and the cable service disconnected, but still, it is not enough.

At Northern Virginia Family Service, the non-profit organization is struggling more than ever this winter to help people like Mullen pay their utilities.

“So it's hard. so we are turning away more people on the utility assistance because we are working with less,” said Stephanie Berkowitz, the Vice President of the service.

Such efforts come as the the administration of President Obama proposed cutting heating assistance for the poor and elderly nearly in half in an effort to control federal spending. The government proposed cutting assistance from 4.7 billion dollars down to 2.5 billion—but, Congress voted to cut only 1.2 billion from the program.

Still, due to the cuts, thousands of families around the country are being turned away without the federal help.

Some senators from the Northeast have introduced legislation to restore last year's heat assistance funding levels. Both Maryland senators have signed on as co-sponsors of that bill. So has Virginia's Senator Jim Webb. Senator Mark Warner has not.