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More and more Virginia utility customers are falling behind in paying their utility and winter heating bills, and sadly even more are having their gas and electric service disconnected, Virginia state officials said.

Already in 2008, an incredible 16 percent of Dominion Virginia Power's residential utility customers are in arrears with their utility bills, the company said.

Utility companies say call us. This is what utilities tell people struggling to cover their utility or heating costs: We'll work with you.

Figures from both charities and utilities show the rapidly growing impact of the nation's staggering economy on ordinary Virginians:

--The Salvation Army has seen requests for utility bill assistance in January increase over 300 percent over the number it received last year, in January 2008, according to the United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg, which is the organizations program's financial agent.

--The number of Dominion Virginia Power families and customers who are now delinquent on their electric bills in 2008 was 3 percent higher than it was the year before, while the amount of the average overdue energy bill grew by over 14 percent.

--Columbia Gas of Virginia has disconnected more than 15 percent more of its natural gas customers in 2008 than it did in 2007. The Chesterfield County company has seen its end-of-the-year accounts receivable, which is the result of late bills, soar 37 percent, from $2.1 million in December 2007 to $2.9 million in December 2008.

--The number of worried individuals and families calling Richmond's Department of Public Utilities to ask about making arrangements or asking for help to pay their gas bills jumped almost 13 percent between November and January and the same period just one year ago.



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