An ‘invisible’ crisis: Already behind on utility bills, many Americans face a tough winter

Antoinette “Toni” Stark, 99, points out an exterior light on her single-story home in Longmont, Colorado. Stark has lived in the house since 1978, and now lives off Social Security and a small amount of savings, and uses heating assistance from the federal government to help pay her utility bills during the cold winters.

LONGMONT, Colo. — The temperature is dipping toward freezing Tuesday night and Toni Stark is getting worried about her rickety basement furnace holding out for another winter.

Her plumber told her it will probably make it through, but at 99 years old, Stark isn’t taking anything for granted – whether that’s being able to keep the furnace running or remaining in her home as the electric and heating bills begin to mount with the cold.

“I keep thinking about what to do if I have to replace it,” she says from the living room of her one-story brick home about an hour northwest of Denver. “I’m comfortable in this house. I wouldn’t want to leave.”

For several years, Stark has been receiving a small payment from the federal government that helps her cover her utility bills.

While Saucer had been paying about $5,000 for heating during the cooler months, she said she was approved for $1,500 worth of oil last year from fuel assistance administered by the nonprofit Action for Boston Community Development. ABCD also insulated her drafty five-bedroom home, replaced a leaky fuel tank and installed a new boiler and mini split air conditioner earlier this year, which should help lower her long-term heating costs.