Seniors learn money-saving ideas

03/04/08 Seán Kinane
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This week is National Consumer Protection Week, which highlights education about consumer protection. This morning at the Enoch Davis Center in South St. Petersburg, the Florida Public Service Commission offered a program geared toward teaching seniors how to save money.

The Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) is the state agency that regulates investor-owned utilities such as phone, electric and water companies. Dick Durbin is a regulatory consultant with the PSC.

“What we’re coming here to do is to talk to people about how they can save money on utilities but also teach them how to be careful with who they do business with and how they do business, be careful about solicitations that they receive over the telephone and folks that just walk up to the front door.”

Durbin gave money-saving advice and tips to avoid scams to the audience of about 30 people. Most of them were senior citizens. Some people can save money on their phone bills by signing up for programs called Link-Up Florida and Lifeline, Durbin said.

“These are programs that help low-income folks get a discount on their telephone bill or if they don’t have a telephone because they can’t afford to get it connected, it will help them get connected. So people who, say, are on food stamps, or Medicaid, maybe they have a child in the home that’s on the national school free lunch program, or if their household income is just within 135 percent of the national poverty level, they can get $13.50 a month off on their telephone bill, that’s $162 a year. And then if they don’t have a telephone, it’ll give them a discount of up to $30 towards getting a telephone installed in the home. Now, this is on your regular land line.”

Lifeline is paid for from a fee charged to everyone’s phone bill called the Universal Service Fund. One of the people in the audience, Nora Corbett, said that she has been saving money on her telephone bill through the Lifeline program for about six years and it was easy to sign up.

Dora Williams saves $13 dollars a month on her telephone bill through Lifeline. She also reads her own electric meter and calls the power company if she suspects a problem.

“Because if they over-read it then if I get the number and then compare it with the number on my bill, then they’ll come back out and read it.”

Williebelle Muldrow said she had not heard of these programs before Tuesday’s session. “But I got the papers and I’m going to read up on it.”

Durbin told the audience that they could get brighter lights and save electricity and money by switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs. He recommended signing up for the do-not call list and being skeptical of telemarketers. Durbin also suggested lowering the thermostat of a home’s water heater.

“If they have an electric water heater, so many people have it set at too high of a temperature. You shouldn’t set it at more than 120 degrees. Usually when you get a new water heater it’s set at 140 degrees. Doesn’t need to be that hot: it’s dangerous and it costs you a lot of money.”

St. Petersburg resident Max Scott said he would be able to save some money with the information he learned from the PSC.

Learn more:

Florida Public Service Commission

Florida Public Service Commission: 1-800-342-3552

Link-Up Florida and Lifeline assistance programs

Link-Up Florida and Lifeline assistance programs to save money on local phone service: 1-800-540-7039

National Consumer Protection Week

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