Newbury — Ohio, With the onset of cooler weather and fall arriving here in Northeast Ohio, we are well aware of the winter heating season looming just around the corner. In that light we are preparing for a long cold winter.
It is once again time for Ohio homeowners and renters to begin preparing for heating our homes over the next four and a half months. Some people in Ohio like us who are either unemployed or are underemployed are facing a serious financial problem, some of us for the first time in our lives.
What is this terrible problem? basically we will not be able to afford the high cost of heating our homes this coming winter! Some have already been disconnected from their utilities over the summer. Fortunately the State of Ohio has long had a governing body tasked with regulating most of our electric and gas utilities within the state of Ohio. This agency is called the “Public Utilities Commission of Ohio” or PUCO for short. Among many other services the PUCO regulates our electricity, and Natural Gas rates all over Ohio.
Recently PUCO Chariman Alan R. Schriber said: “We recognize that many Ohioans may be in need of home heating assistance this winter heating season” in his order to regulated Electric and Gas Utilities to reconnect customers before winter, he also said “Our winter reconnect order provides Ohio’s struggling families with an opportunity to have their home heating service reconnected or maintained during difficult times”
The people at the PUCO are the ones who help determining a fair rate for what you and I will have to pay for our electricity, and natural gas! So naturally I feel that we should all be very concerned with the rules and regulations which this group works on every day. The utilities which are regulated by the PUCO can be controlled in such a way that “in theory” the Utilities cannot overcharge their consumers. And it has been mandated for 26 years now that they need to work with their clients to try and keep us all connected, especially in the colder months. As a result of the efforts from PUCO, we have rules which can help keep people connected to their utilities even if they have money owed from last heating season.
For many Ohioans who have been unfortunate enough to be either disconnected, or are being threatened with disconnection from a utility, For 26 years in a row the PUCO has mandated that these utilities in Ohio work with these customers to get them reconnected before the winter heating season.
There are specific rules the consumer must follow and basically it comes down to the consumer paying their delinquent bills, or $175 whichever is cheaper, plus not more than a $36 reconnection fee, and this program comes with no income eligibility requirement. From personal experience the utility can waive this fee if they are so inclined, and your best shot with them is to be polite with everyone at the utility and ask them nicely if there is any way that you can avoid that charge. Worst case they may be able to find a way to tack it onto your payback plan, this is required once you reconnect by making up a payment plan with the utility.
With the high cost of all heating sources here in Northeast Ohio, the $175 that the program allows the consumer to pay is usually less than the actual amount due, so if the $175 is lower than their bills, that plus the $36 is used in order to get them reconnected. Then there are other state and local programs which can help keep your bills paid once you are back on, but the payments must be made once you make the agreement with your utility. Look for the HEAP program via your local Ohio Jobs and Family Services Office, as they can help you sign up for and receive many different kinds of assistance.
How this rule impacted almost 311,000 Ohioans last year, is that we can get our utility company to reconnect the gas or electric if it was disconnected anytime after last heating season. This number is significant as there are around 6 million utility customers in Ohio that are under PUCO regulation, so this is around 5% of these utilities customers! Falling behind may be due to job loss, and not being able to make the monthly payments as agreed. Having it reconnected for that amount helps me budget money so that I can continue to work on the repayment plan until I am caught up.
One thing they do offer is a budget payment plan where my bill will be the same for all 12 months, and this one step alone has made it much easier for me to cover the fuel oil and electric bills, especially when they rise in the winter due to extra usage from longer colder nights. The electric space heaters we use to offset the hight cost of fuel oil can really increase my electric usage almost forty percent in January and February.
We have gone to the local Jobs and Family Services Office and have one time received some heating oil assistance, but it does not usually seem to be quite enough to keep your furnace on long enough, it is probably sufficient if all you want to do is prevent your pipes from freezing.
So this is one situation where the PUCO can help us unemployed Ohioans out once a year. It is a very good program that helps to make sure that all of those who want it can have utility services reconnected, and we can get it done before the cold weather sets in.
If you are in a financial jam, I would strongly encourage you to visit the PUCO website and the ODJFS website, and seek the help which they can offer or direct you to.
Sources, Further Information, and resources:
PUCO website announcement
HEAP Clearinghouse for all of Ohio
HEAP for Geauga County
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