Tyletha Wright knew she was late paying the electric bill, but she says she had more pressing worries -- paying for food for herself and her three children. A nursing student living in a Liberty City apartment, she wasn't sure how many warnings from Florida Power & Light piled up, but one day the lights went off.
They stayed off a week. The family lived by candles and cold food until a friend told her about a federal program that helped pay electric bills for low-income families, and soon her lights were back on. Many have not been so lucky. Administrators say the program helps only 20 percent of those who need it.
As the recession deepens, growing numbers are struggling to pay their electric bills, Requests for help paying the power company are up 56 percent in Broward and 35 percent in Miami-Dade.
FPL refused to provide exact numbers, but complaints to state regulators are up 20 percent this year about the most common gripe from South Floridians -- FPL demanding late-paying customers make large deposits or go to an autopay system from their bank account if they want to keep their lights on.
FPL, whose parent company raked in a record $1.6 billion in profit last year, insists it's simply following prudent businesses practices using steps approved by state regulators.
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