Florence is famed for its contributions to Italian art, architecture and cuisine – but these days, leaders in the city regarded as the birthplace of the Renaissance are concerned with more mundane matters: paying the bills.
Amid soaring energy costs across Europe, officials at Palazzo Vecchio – the building that serves as Florence’s city hall as well as a museum – have teamed up with a local non-profit to help fixed-income retirees keep their power on through an “Adopt-a-Bill” fundraising campaign.
Mayor Dario Nardella said: “Florence is a city where you live well, and for this reason, too, people live very long.”
A significant number of Florence’s retirees, however, live on less than 9,000 euro (£7,500) a year and cannot afford to make ends meet with an expected 55% increase in home electricity costs and a 42% hike in residential gas bills.
To assist Florence’s estimated 30,000 residents over age 65 and living alone, the city administration launched the fundraising campaign with the Montedomini Foundation, which runs projects aimed at helping the city’s retirees.
The campaign raised 33,000 euro (£27,500) in its first few days.
Private citizens, including Florentines living abroad, made more than 200 donations, according to the city’s welfare councillor, Sara Funaro.
“Our goal is to raise funds to make sure that every elderly person who asks us for help can receive help to cover the increase in bills due to (energy costs) increasing,” Ms Funaro said.
Spiking energy prices are raising utility bills – and driving a record rise in inflation – from Poland to the United Kingdom.
In response, governments across Europe are rushing to pass aid for residents and businesses as utility companies pass on costs to consumers.
In Turkey, where the economic pressure is extreme and has fuelled protests, Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir are among opposition-led municipalities with similar “Adopt-a-Bill” initiatives.
Istanbul’s municipal website says nearly 49 million Turkish lira (£2.6 million) was donated since 2020, covering 320,000 utility bills.
Italian premier Mario Draghi’s government has passed measures valued at more than eight billion euro (£6.67 billion) to help blunt the impact of soaring energy prices for businesses and individuals.
The government’s most recent decree, issued on Friday, also had a forward-looking component: it looked to accelerate Italy’s transition to more renewable energy sources, particularly solar power, to make the country less dependent on imported supplies.
Italy currently imports 90% of its gas, much of it from Russia, and Mr Draghi has insisted that any European Union sanctions to punish Russia for recognising two separatist-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine must exempt the energy sector.
The Italian mayors’ association has said the government’s response has so far been insufficient to help cities cope with hundreds of millions of euro in additional energy costs, making them choose between balancing budgets or cutting services.
Florence, Rome and other cities kept their municipal monuments and local government buildings dark on February 10 to draw attention to the situation.
Florence’s Adopt-a-Bill campaign enjoys popular support. As well as being a top tourist destination, the capital of Italy’s Tuscany region has a long record of successfully providing social services to poor and vulnerable residents.