By Betsy Dolan
Ask Natalie Williams about happier times and she’ll mention cooking meals for her Bible study group years ago and how she used to sing in the church choir.
“I was always asked to go to other churches and sing,” the 56-year old Missouri City woman says. “I love to sing gospel.”
It is her strong faith that is keeping Williams feeling hopeful about the future despite a two year period that has seen her health deteriorate and her finances stretched to the breaking point.
Her story began two years ago when Williams, who lives near Willowridge High School, was diagnosed with chronic lung disease that required her to be on a breathing machine full-time.
Her 71-year old husband, a retired truck driver, received $1,100 a month in Social Security benefits, too much money for Williams to qualify for her own benefits and home health care.
The Williams’ decided the only solution was to legally separate, something neither of them wanted but it would ensure that Natalie would be able to get proper medical care.
Mr. Williams moved out but continued paying the mortgage and taxes on the house. Natalie agreed to pay the utilities.
Natalie began receiving her benefits but says the money was cut-off when Social Security accused her of still being married. Natalie was ordered to pay back the $18,000 in benefits she had already received.
“I sent them official papers and everything to show that we weren’t married any more,” Natalie said. “I finally gave in so that I could get my benefits back.”
Social Security now garnishes a portion of her benefits every month leaving less to pay the bills. Williams is caught up on her smaller bills but is unable to pay the $6,000 Reliant Energy bill which gets larger every month.
Keisha Banks, a social worker with Fort Bend County Social Services, says she worries that despite Williams being a critical care patient, her electricity could be shut off at any time.
Pat Hammond, a Reliant Energy spokesperson, looked into William’s case when she was contacted by the “Star”. She discovered that William’s critical care status, which CenterPoint Energy handles, expired on July 11. Reliant flagged William’s account as ‘critical care on a temporary basis’ and put $300 from their CARE energy assistance program toward William’s bill.
Banks is hoping that other donations can help reduce William’s electric bill so that community organizations that help pay utilities for low income residents can pay the remaining balance due.
“There are organizations that want to help but they can’t as long as she has this huge bill hanging over her head,” Banks said.
Meanwhile, Natalie Williams leans on her faith.
“God gives us hope and faith and I keep on believing that God will work this out for me and for my family,” Williams said. “I know it is going to be alright.”