By Anne Thompson Chief environmental correspondent
NBC News
updated 5/24/2004 7:47:47 PM ET 2004-05-24T23:47:47

The Department of Energy said Monday that gasoline prices have set another record. The ripple effect is wide and growing wider.

Meals on Wheels is a lifeline to seniors in Spokane, Wash., and its lifeline is volunteer drivers. But soaring gas prices are forcing some, like Doris Swehla, to cut back on driving miles and others to drop out altogether.

“Since it's costing that much, there are a lot of people saying, 'Well, I'll figure some other way to volunteer,'” said Swehla.

Pam Almeida, executive director of Spokane Valley Meals on Wheels, said the organization has started losing volunteers who can't afford gas to deliver the meals. 

“If volunteers can't afford to deliver the meals, then we can't afford to give the meals out to the people who need them,” she said. “My fear is that seniors will go hungry.”

It is a growing problem for Meals on Wheels programs nationwide and just one of the ripple effects of $2 a gallon gas and near-$42-a-barrel oil.

“The increases in oil prices are like a $50 billion tax increase on the American people,” said Daniel Yergin, an energy analyst with Cambridge Energy Research Associates, “and clearly, a growing drag on our economy.”

It's felt in every part of Tim Hannon's florist business outside Denver. He's paying more for freight charges, so he has raised the price of roses nearly a dollar a stem. His delivery fee has jumped as much as 50 percent, hurting customers and Hannon.

“We've got some people that are choosing to take some of the increased delivery charge out of the arrangement rather than spending the extra,” he said. “There is no free delivery anymore.”

But not everybody's holding back.

Yellow Roadway, the nation's largest trucking company, reports that despite a 7 percent fuel surcharge, it has seen no drop-off in demand for its services to haul everything from clothes to machine cogs.

That business has been able to absorb these price shocks in a growing economy and is a buffer against the ripple effect that's putting pressure on others.

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