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More Disconnect Notices on the Way
As the weather warms up, families will be spending less money heating their homes, but for some Illinois residents, the warmer temperatures of April bring some bad news. It's now okay for utility companies to shut off power if customers have not paid their bills. Because of safety issues, they are not allowed to do so in the winter months.
Getting help is getting harder as well. More people needing help, and about 30 percent less money for energy assistance, created some major problems for the Sangamon County Department of Community Resources this winter. The office is not even taking applications for aid unless a shut-off notice is included, and with the state-wide moratorium on shut-offs running out on March 31, a lot more families could be coming home to dark, cold homes.
"Homes that are not disconnected should not call," Sharmin Doering, Executive Director of the Sangamon
County Department of Community Resources, said. "If we
do receive those applications and a disconnect notice is not included in the
application, then it will be rejected."
Families counting on the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program may receive disconnect notices in the next few weeks. The good news is that Ameren says they will not shut off utilities in the next couple of days because temperatures are forecast to dip below 32 degrees. When the cold weather moves out, disconnect protection will not come into play again until temperatures are forecast to be 95 degrees or higher, or a heat warning is issued.
"Hopefully most people have arranged this
before they are shut off, but we do encourage anyone who feels that they are
getting to that point, don't be afraid to call the utility," Doering said.
Ameren hopes that anyone having a difficult time paying their bill will contact them immediately to set up a payment plan, or enroll in budget billing which ensures that each monthly bill is the same amount. However, in order for the company to do business, they have to collect on those overdue bills. In Illinois, utility companies are legally obligated to provide service to households, regardless of their credit history. When the bill comes in the mail, the utility company has already paid for the costs of the energy, and delivering it to your home. At that point they are simply waiting to be reimbursed.
Ameren Illinois Spokesperson Leigh Morris said they are still very willing to set up a repayment plan on past-due accounts, but now that the moratorium is over, it will take a little more cash.
“Through the end of March we were offering customers the
chance to set up a payment plan with just 10 percent down," Morris said. "Now, if you are in arras
it will take 25 percent down. That is 25 percent of the total amount owed to establish a
Both the Department of Community Resources, and Ameren have
additional resources to help struggling utility customers get caught up.
Doering said her office is referring people to Capital Township at (217)
535-3120. Ameren sends people to Warm Neighbors Cool Friends, which has less stringent guidelines that LIHEAP.