Rising gas prices cause hardship for low-income driversby Tom Robertson, Minnesota Public Radio
The average price of gasoline in Minnesota is at $3.30 a gallon. That's down a penny from an earlier record high, and it's eight cents higher than the national average.
The price spike has lots of people grumbling at the pumps, but some people are feeling the pinch more than others. People with low incomes and tight budgets are having to make unpleasant choices in order to make ends meet.
Bemidji, Minn. — Rising gas prices are becoming a big problem for Susan Chapman. She's a single mom who works as a security screener at Bemidji's regional airport. Chapman lives on a hobby farm 20 miles out in the country. She works a split shift, so between shifts each day, she drives home to do chores.
Chapman takes care of five dogs, a dozen cats and a shed full of chickens and geese. She keeps her three horses in a fenced, rolling pasture.
"That's Cody, he's a mustang," says Chapman, pointing across the field. "Both his parents were wild and he was born in captivity. This is Oden, and then way back there is Whiskey. And if I had to ride one to work, I sure would."
Chapman says she's only half-kidding about riding a horse to work. She puts nearly 100 miles a day on her car, and her household budget is increasingly getting eaten away by rising gasoline costs.
Chapman says she and her son are cutting back on things like going out to eat or catching a movie. She says they avoid making non-essential trips to town on the weekends.
"You've got to plan ahead and figure out, 'OK, do I need to go grocery shopping today?'" says Chapman. "You can't just run into town anymore for one thing. It's got to be combined trips."
High gas prices tend to sting low-income households more than others, because they have less expendable cash.
Single mother Karen Kimbrough lives in Bemidji, where she raises her 7-year-old son. Both have a brittle bone disease that requires frequent out-of-town trips to the doctor.
Kimbrough's income is limited to a disability check and child support payments. She says rising gas prices are having a huge affect on her family.
"It really hit me when I was spending more money on gas than on groceries," says Kimbrough. "Just running around for the kids is so expensive, and I just realized that when I had to spend 30-some dollars to fill my tank yesterday, I was like, 'Oh my God!'"
Kimbrough says rising gas prices mean her son won't get to attend his older brother's out-of-town high school graduation this spring. She also thinks he'll see less of his father in St. Paul this summer. Kimbrough says there's stuff around the house that needs fixing, but she won't be able to do that, either.
"It's like putting the kibosh on so many plans," she says, "and you really can't cut back the stuff for the kids. It's activity-related stuff. You don't want to say, 'No, sorry, you can't be in baseball because we can't afford the gas.'"
Agencies that serve low-income families are seeing an increased need since gas prices jumped. There's been a sharp jump in requests for gas vouchers, according to Lucille Moe, executive director of the Community Action Program that serves Cass and Beltrami counties.
Moe says the vouchers are available to families enrolled in low-income programs like Head Start, and she says more people are asking for help to pay for gas for out-of-town doctor visits and travel related to job hunting.
Moe says funding for those assistance programs is running out, and it's putting some low-income families in a tough spot.
"They're choosing between paying for their groceries, for their gas or even utility bills in order to come up with transportation costs," says Moe. "I'm assuming middle class and upper class people are complaining about the price of gas. But the low-income people, they have to choose between groceries for the family or gas to get to work."
There's no sign of much relief from rising gas prices. Experts expect the price will go up again before this Memorial Day weekend.
- All Things Considered, 05/23/2007, 5:52 p.m.