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'It is very alarming' | Texas sees increase in first-time callers needing help paying mortgage, utilities as prices continue to rise across U.S.

“211 is usually their last place for hope," Thanh Nguyen said of Texans who've tapped their savings and resources as residents struggle with inflation.

HOUSTON — Americans across the country are feeling the strain on their wallets as inflation soars. The U.S. is now bracing for a potential recession as the national average for a gallon of unleaded gasoline sits at more than $5. It’s a new record high. Food prices are up 10% in the last year and the cost of travel is up 38% from one year to the next.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden addressed inflation and said his administration doing everything it can to help Americans.

RELATED: US inflation hit a new 40-year high last month of 8.6%

“Jobs are back but prices are still too high,” Biden said. “COVID is down but gas prices are up. Our work isn't done."

The president's speech came a day before the Federal Reserve could raise interest rates up to three-quarters of a percentage point as it tries to get inflation under control.

RELATED: As gas prices hit $5 a gallon, what's causing the ongoing surge?

The economic relief won’t come soon enough for a growing number of Texans who are struggling to make ends meet. The statewide social services helpline, 211 Texas, is fielding calls from Texans who can no longer afford to pay their rent or mortgage.

With only $20 cash to spare, Urbina Silvia said she could only afford to buy four gallons of fuel on Tuesday.

“It’s not easy because the gas is so high and you have to go get the kids at school, to go to the supermarket, to go to work,” the 40-year-old mother of two children said. “I would like to have the help, but I don’t know where to go.”

211, a 15-year-old statewide hotline, could be the answer. Call-takers are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Thanh Nguyen, a senior manager at United Way Houston, which partners with 211, describes the hotline as, “the number to call when you don’t know who to call.”

RELATED: Inflation especially tough on elderly, draining social security, retirement accounts

Because of a change in workflow earlier in the pandemic, call-takers work mostly from home answering, “thousands of calls a day,” Nguyen said.

So far this year, 211 has helped to make more than 540,000 connections which Nguyen said, “is about a 40% increase from the same time last year.”

211 call-takers connect Texans with more than 5,000 organizations like nonprofits, government groups and faith-based networks that can help people pay for things like medicine, utilities and food.

“Or they are now looking for help to pay their mortgage. They’ve exhausted all of their savings and are now needing help for the first time,” Nguyen said.

Even after the first two years of the pandemic, in which calls for help were up, Nguyen said Texas is recently seeing an uptick in first-time callers.

“It is very alarming,” she said of the rising calls. “The top needs continue to be for rent and mortgage.”

The United Way Houston is working to identify more organizations that can offer Texans some financial relief.

RELATED: Biden plots inflation fight with Fed chair as nation worries

“And I will be honest with you, people want to be listed with us until they get the number of referrals that we offer them and they can’t handle the capacity,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen said the busiest times for 211 call-takers are in the early morning, before Texans head to work, during the noon-time lunch hour and the early evening when people return home only to find their utilities have been shut off.

If you do not want to wait on the phone, you can chat with an actual person online at 211Texas.org.

CLICK HERE: Donate to United Way of Greater Houston 

The 15-year social-working veteran described some days as “overwhelming” as call-takers lead with compassion in 150 different languages as they help comfort and connect Texans who are growing more frustrated with the economy each passing day.

“They’ve exhausted all of their resources and 211 is usually their last, their last place for hope,” Nguyen said.

Hope and prayer are what’s fueling Silvia as her less than half-tank of gasoline carries her through her responsibilities.

“You have to keep going. You have to pray every day because it’s not easy,” Silvia said.

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