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Our Story

Imagine a life without electricity. No heat to keep your family warm in the winter. No refrigerator to keep your food fresh. No light for your kids to do their homework by.

For many Oregon families, this possibility is all too real. A sudden illness, unexpected expense, or loss of income can quickly snowball into a financial crisis. And when that storm hits, these families find themselves with agonizing decisions. Pay the gas bill or buy food? Lights or medicine? Rent or heat? We believe no one should face these questions.

The Oregon Energy Fund is a 30-year-old statewide nonprofit that provides energy bill assistance to Oregonians in financial crisis in support of household stability. Since 1989, OEF has helped almost 300,000 Oregonians pay their utility bills in the face of unexpected crises like medical emergencies or layoffs. Through the generous contributions of our neighbors, we provide the basic needs that allow people to live healthy and productive lives.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

How many people need help paying their utility bills?

Nearly 1 in 3 Americans struggle to pay their energy bills each year, while 1 in 5 report cutting back on necessities like food, rent, or medicine in order to pay their bills, according to studies by the Energy Information Administration, the Federal Reserve Board, and the Oregon Department of Energy. Here in Oregon, the need has grown acutely as the cost of living has risen and our weather has grown more extreme. Around 30% of Oregon households, or 441,000 homes, are energy-burdened.

Additionally, a survey by the Community Action Organization of Beaverton found that falling behind on the bills affects more people in poverty than any other issue, and energy assistance is the #1 resource that would help most respondents feel stable and secure.

Finally, falling behind on the bills can set off a chain reaction that leads directly to health problems, job loss, and housing instability, including eviction. Such households “are at greater risk for respiratory diseases and increased stress, and can experience increased economic hardship and difficulty in moving out of poverty,” the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) found in an April 2016 study.

In sum, utility bill assistance is a comparatively low-cost measure whose benefits extend far beyond the realm of home energy use.

How does energy assistance benefit the community at large?

Energy bill assistance, a relatively minor effort, can lead to major, positive changes that reverberate throughout a community. A 2007 study from the University of Colorado Denver, for example, found that the inability to pay one’s utility bills was the second leading cause of homelessness in the state for households with children (behind domestic violence).

Similarly, a 2006 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that children in low-income families were less likely to experience undernutrition when their families received energy assistance – since those families didn’t have to choose between buying food and paying the bills.

Energy insecurity is most often felt by a community’s most vulnerable populations. A 2016 ACEEE study found that households that identify as low-income, African American, Latinx, or Native are more likely to be energy burdened and face a higher energy burden than the average household. Households in rural communities are also more likely to be energy burdened, which can lead to a chilling effect on local economies, since families have less disposable income to spend. As such, energy assistance supports vulnerable or marginalized populations by design. In 2018, for example, 61% of all OEF recipients were children, seniors, or individuals with a disability.

In short, reducing a family’s energy burden leads to greater household stability and a healthier community in general – a preventative action whose benefits far outweigh the cost.

Are there other organizations that provide utility bill assistance?

Oregon Energy Fund is the only statewide nonprofit dedicated specifically to the issue of utility hardship.  Some churches and local community action organizations have small allocations for energy assistance, but not enough resources exist.

How are you different from LIHEAP or OEAP?

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and Oregon Energy Assistance Program (OEAP) are federally- and state-funded initiatives that provide long-term energy assistance to low-income households. However, these programs only have enough funds to help about 20% of eligible Oregon households, leaving hundreds of thousands of potential recipients without aid.

Moreover, while LIHEAP & OEAP are limited to low-income households, utility hardship is not. According to the Federal Reserve Board, 40% of all American adults are unable to pay for an unexpected $400 expense, such as a medical visit, car problems, or a layoff. Households faced with such a bill are often forced to siphon money away from monthly expenses like food and utility payments, which can have a snowball effect.

While one-time energy bill assistance would neutralize this problem, many of these households have a moderately higher income and thus do not qualify for federal or state aid. Oregon Energy Fund’s income guidelines are specifically structured to include Oregonians with slightly higher incomes, which also prevents the need for long-term assistance. We are the only organization in the state to address this funding gap.

How can I help?

As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, our work depends almost exclusively on the support of our friends, neighbors, and community. Please consider making a one-time or monthly donation to our energy assistance programs, or signing up to volunteer. Stay up-to-date with our work by signing up for our monthly e-newsletter or following us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

Meet Our Team

Advisory Council

  • Scott Bolton
  • Pacific Power
  • Kristin Stathis
  • Portland General Electric
  • Lori Russell
  • NW Natural Gas
  • Bob Harding
  • Columbia Bank

Board of Directors

  • Tori Bryson, President
  • Hoffman, Stewart & Schmidt, P.C.
  • Sarah Simmons, Vice President
  • R/West
  • Anne Wahr, Secretary
  • Portland General Electric
  • Kristen Brown, Treasurer
  • NW Natural Gas
  • Marisa DeCristoforo
  • Consultant
  • David DiMatteo
  • Latino Network
  • Jason Heuser
  • Eugene Water & Electric Board
  • Margi Hoffmann
  • Hoffmann Consulting, LLC
  • Daniel Huggett
  • West Oregon Electric
  • Christina Krüger
  • Pacific Power
  • Jess Marpe
  • Community Action
  • Tyler Richardson
  • Portland General Electric
  • Miguel Santos
  • US Bank
  • Charity Spires
  • Pacific Power
  • Bob Walsh
  • Walsh Trucking Company
  • Adam Lowney, Immediate Past President
  • McDowell Rackner Gibson PC

Management Team

  • Brian Allbritton
  • Executive Director
  • Marietta Doney
  • Deputy Director
  • Will Preston
  • Communications Coordinator
  • Audrey Bell
  • Program Coordinator