KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The impact of high utility bills continues to grow. Thousands of Kansas City Power & Light customers are now pleading for help to cover the costs.
Imagine opening your power bill and seeing it's $1,700 or even $2,500. Those are two real cases from KCP&L customers. If you don't have that kind of cash lying around, you might be desperate for help, and that's driving a new call to action.
Raylene Patrick is still sticker shocked by her bill this month. It's $1,751 and some change.
"We just kind of went into a panic because it's saying that's due on September 17th," she said.
As FOX4 has previously reported, tons of KCP&L customers are in panic mode after similar spikes in bills, leading to an online petition calling for an external audit of the company. As of Wednesday, it's now got more than 50,000 signatures.
"It's awful. They're clearly just taking advantage of people because there's no other option," Patrick said.
KCP&L changed its billing this summer, aimed at improving the amount customers on budget billing pay per month. The switch came at a time when hot weather spiked power use.
The result for many was a double whammy of higher monthly "budget bills," coupled with adjustments for what previous payments hadn't covered.
And in some cases, there's an added challenge.
"When you're on a payment plan, if you miss a payment, they kick you off and now the entire bill is due," said Stacey Washington, utility assistance manager for Community Action Agency of Greater Kansas City.
The result has been big jumps in requests for utility bill assistance at many metro nonprofits.
"Very busy every day. Our lobby is full. Our phone's constantly ringing with people needing help," Washington said.
In August alone, the agency has seen more than 3,000 visitors, and the vast majority have been looking for help paying for power. But the organization can only give a max of $300 to each client.
"If someone comes in and their disconnect notice is for $1,000, we can assist with $300. But the customer would have to pay the difference first before we could actually help them," Washington said.
That leads many to look for help elsewhere, like Catholic Charities, which is also seeing an uptick in utility assistance requests.
"A lot of times clients will come in a crisis mode. And that's our job to help them decipher what's priority," said Kisha Thomas, Catholic Charities' welcome center director.
Both agencies work to address other needs people might have, which can sometimes help free up a client's cash to cover power bills.
"We have clients who have to choose between food and paying their light bill, and so a lot of times, even if we can provide financial assistance, we still provide basic items like diapers, hygiene and food," Thomas said.
Their advice is to do what you can to cover higher monthly budget bills now, so you don't suffer with a sudden major adjustment that's more than you or local charities can cover.
Missouri State Rep. Lauren Arthur has launched an inquiry into the high KCP&L bills. She said she's very concerned about the impact to seniors and working families and encourages anyone needing help to contact United Way 211.