We are depending on that oil for heat and light. For the lucky it will mean a mere grimace or even a shrug when they look at those extra dollars.
For others who have never enjoyed their luck, it will mean a further descent into the hell of hunger, pain and bone-chilling cold.
Wanda White of Broad Cove is among the latter. Sick and disabled, she has difficulty speaking (so much so that our interview was conducted by internet). She is unable to stand without support and needs a wheelchair to get around. Her osteoporosis is so bad that even turning in her bed can cause a bone to break. She has weak lungs and a common cold can quickly turn to pneumonia.
She and her disabled husband Gene live in their own home and receive income support. They are on an equal payment plan with Newfoundland Power.
Wanda writes they have given the department of Advanced Education, Skills and Labour permission to take $75 from their bi-weekly cheque as payment toward heat and light. Afterwards they have roughly $370 on which to live, buy some medications, pay taxis for doctors’ appointments and take care of the remaining bills.
That $150-a-month-payment means the Whites can turn on the heat in their house for just two hours a day in one room only, the kitchen — even during the coldest days of winter. They sleep in an unheated room on the most frigid of nights. And the cold, the terrible cold, is making Wanda sicker.
“Cold makes my condition worse, as does damp air,” she writes.
But there is little they can do and they know it. For they also need food, and so they must be satisfied with that insufficient two hours of warmth each day.
Wanda White on her dilemma and that of others like her: “What choice do we have, do others have? If we did turn on the heat, we would have to pay up to $400 a month or more and then how do we eat?”
In winter the Whites dress in layers to keep reasonably warm. Wanda wears a hat and gloves in the house.
Newfoundland Power verified in an email that for every $100 a residential consumer owes, an additional $8.10 is now added to it. That increase has Wanda worried. “We barely make it as it is,” she writes.
“An increase will see us doing without something else needed for survival, especially at 8.1 per cent. That’s another $8.10 off every $100 and while it may not seem like much to anyone else that $8.00 can buy 4 packs of mac and cheese or 2 dozen eggs or 2 litres of milk and a jar of peanut butter.”
In the same email the power company confirmed rates to businesses can climb as high as an additional $11.90 on every $100, depending on the amount of electricity used. It would be naïve to think some of these costs will not be passed on to the consumer, driving up the price of groceries and clothing, making life more difficult for the Whites and others like them.
A provincial government statement sent to me described two new programs designed to make homes more energy-efficient. One focuses on insulation and air-sealing, while the other deals with insulation and heat-pumps.
The Whites already live in an insulated home. It is this, along with the clothes they pile on, that probably ensures their survival in winter. The program involving the installation of heat-pumps forces the applicant to borrow. It is unlikely this couple, subsisting on income-support benefits, is in any position to do so.
Theirs is a terrible predicament and as Wanda indicated there is no reason to think it is anomalous. We have too many people in this province who must choose between heat and food and it is sickening that such conditions are met with indifference and disbelief.
We’re willing to throw billions of dollars at a hydroelectric project that is nothing but an albatross around our necks. And we accept having our tax dollars drained away by the massive salaries paid to some government workers when it is questionable if a portion are worth it. Yet we think little, if nothing, of the problems faced by people like Gene and Wanda White.
A warm home and freedom from hunger should be the right of every man, woman and child in Newfoundland and Labrador. A salary that pays for vacations to exotic locales and the must-have over-priced home with all the latest gadgetry is not.
The government would rightfully prosecute anyone who left an animal hungry or shivering in the cold. Yet it sees nothing wrong with leaving its residents in the same conditions. It is doubtful their humanity is recognized, much less considered.
It is unfortunate our priorities are so skewed. We could make life so much better for our sick and disabled if we would just stop wasting money on some of our politicians and bureaucrats, the worthless kind. For by wasting it on them, we’re also wasting it on the equally worthless ideas they bring with them.
Pat Cullen is a journalist who lives in Carbonear. She can be reached at 596-1505 or firstname.lastname@example.org.