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Wisconsin pays off 36,000 utility bills for low-income households to avoid disconnection
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UTILITY BILLS | FEDERAL AID

Wisconsin pays off 36,000 utility bills for low-income households to avoid disconnection

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Wisconsin has paid off overdue utility bills for more than 36,000 low-income households at risk of disconnection and is working to help others now that utilities are again allowed to shut off service.

Gov. Tony Evers announced last week the state had paid out more than $21 million in federal energy assistance funding to cover past-due balances for eligible households.

“This year has been tough for folks and families, and we know there are so many who’ve struggled to make ends meet,” Evers said in a statement. “That’s why we’re working every day to ensure families, our state, and our economy can bounce back from this pandemic, and part of that is making sure households across the state can keep their lights on and their utilities running.”

Barb Klug, director of the Home Energy Plus Bureau, said the agency worked directly with the five largest investor-owned utilities to pay off outstanding balances as of April 9 for households that had applied for and received aid through the Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program.

The program offers one-time assistance for households that earn less than 60% of the state median income, which works out to about $48,000 a year for a family of three. As of April 20, the program had provided more than $69 million in utility assistance to more than 175,700 households, an increase of nearly 23% from the same period last year.

Customers did not have to apply for the arrears payments.

“We knew people had arrears and the moratorium was being lifted,” Klug said. “It protected our vulnerable population and streamlined the administration process.”

The funding came from the state’s annual allocation of $105 million in federal low-income energy assistance. The state expects to receive about $110 million in additional energy assistance funding through the $1.9 trillion federal pandemic relief bill passed earlier this year.

Klug said the state is now working to pay off arrears for eligible customers of smaller for-profit as well as municipal and cooperative energy utilities and expects to receive at least $8 million in additional federal funds that can be used to help pay off water bills.

“Wisconsin is one of the only states that is doing this — in this fashion,” Klug said.

The Public Service Commission voted in March to allow utilities to begin shutting off service April 15 to customers who are behind on their bills, ending a nearly 18-month moratorium put in place at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At that time more than 93,000 households faced possible disconnection, according to data from the PSC. Nearly 21,230 of those households were at risk of losing water service.

It’s not clear how many of those customers have been disconnected or have entered payment plans. Utilities have until Friday to file second quarter reports with the PSC, though it may be weeks before the data is publicly available.

For more information on the home energy assistance program, visit www.homeenergyplus.wi.gov. Utility customers experiencing other housing or home energy needs should contact 1-800-506-5596 or support@wheap.help.


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