Consumer advocates want to extend the ban on utility shutoffs
Utilities will be able to shut off power to people who can’t pay their bills starting on March 16.
Consumer advocates want Gov. Eric Holcomb to extend its winter moratorium on disconnects for three months — giving local nonprofits time to address a backlog of applications for assistance.
People who get federal assistance on their bills through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program — or qualify for it — can’t get their power shut off during the winter, but that moratorium will soon end.
Elva James is the executive director for the Area Four Agency on Aging and Community Action Programs. She said her nonprofit is still working to process more than 1,600 LIHEAP applications.
“There's less people in the workforce bringing wages into the home, there's bills that they're behind in already, and then there's a higher cost of fuel. So all those put together, I think it's still affecting people's lifestyle and ability to pay their bills," James said.
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Natural gas prices have been a big factor in higher utility bills this winter and some Indiana utilities have also raised their rates since the last winter season.
“We should wait until these applications are processed, these funds are released to those individuals and credited to their accounts before we — before we shut off their energy," said Kerwin Olson, executive director of the Citizens Action Coalition.
Citizens Action Coalition also wants the governor to create a utility affordability task force to ensure that cold weather doesn’t force lower-income residents to choose between feeding their families and heating their homes.
The CAC said longer, more flexible payment plans based on the customer's ability to pay would go a long way to protect customers from shutoffs.
The group also suggests eliminating downpayment requirements on payment plans, late fees, and requiring customers to pay the full amount due to reconnect — among other things.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.
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