By Frank Lewis
The Community Action Organization of Scioto County, Ohio Development Services Agency (ODSA) and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) want to remind area residents that assistance is available if you have been disconnected or are threatened with disconnection from your utility service.
The Winter Crisis Program, a component of the Home Energy Assistance Program, provides assistance to eligible households that are threatened with disconnection, have been disconnected or have less than a 25 percent supply of bulk fuel.
“People have to be income eligible for the program,” Angela Davis of CAO said. “They have to be within the guidelines of 175 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.”
For a family of four the annual income must be at or below $42,437.50.
“If they use a regulated utility like Columbia Gas or AEP, they have to have a disconnect notice to be eligible,” Davis said. “For those who use bulk fuel to heat, such as kerosene, fuel oil, propane, wood or coal, they are supposed to have less than a 10-day supply when they come in to do the application.”
Individuals interested in receiving Winter Crisis Program assistance must have a face-to-face interview at their Winter Crisis Program provider.
“People kind of have to plan ahead if they call for an appointment,” Davis said. “Right now we’re scheduled 28 days out. So they may have right now maybe 60 percent in their tank. If they’ve only got a 330 gallon tank, they’re probably going to want to go ahead and making sure they call and get an appointment. If they’ve got a 500 gallon tank, they might be able to wait a week or so.”
She said those who don’t currently have an appointment with CAO, and are already down to 25 percent or less, will most likely only get seen if they walk in early in the morning. Davis said they take the first 10 walk-ins each day.
“If somebody comes in and does the application, if we approve the application, and if they’ve got 70 percent in their tank when we approve them, and if the propane company comes out and they can only put 10 percent in the tank – that’s all they’re going to get,” Davis said. “So people have to make sure that they’re in that emergency situation before they come in.”
Davis said CAO also has an outreach person for elderly people who are homebound and can’t make it into the office.
“We can try to schedule them a home visit but we have very limited resources for home visits,” Davis said. “But we will make that effort to go out and do a home visit for those who need it.”
Davis said, when a crisis exists, the earlier you call, the better. Her office can be reached at 740-354-7541.
Ohioans also can call the ODSA toll-free hotline at (800) 282-0880, Monday through Friday (hearing impaired customers may dial (800) 686-1557 for assistance) or visit energyhelp.ohio.gov for more information.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio’s Winter Reconnect Order allows residential customers the opportunity to have their service restored or maintained by paying the amount due or $175, whichever is less. If the customer’s service has already been disconnected, the customer must pay the $175 and any applicable reconnection charge not to exceed an up front payment of $36. If the company’s reconnection charge is greater than $36, the balance may be billed to the customer the following month. Customers may use the program once during the winter heating season between Oct. 19, 2015 and April 15, 2016.
There is no income eligibility requirement or sign-up required for the Winter Reconnect Order.
Several other state and federal programs are available to assist those who qualify. The PUCO encourages customers to explore all options including PIPP Plus, HEAP and the Home Weatherization Assistance Program (HWAP). More information about these programs and additional ways to save on home heating bills this winter are available at Ohio’s Winter Heating Resource website www.winterheat.ohio.gov. Visitors to this site will also find information about budget billing, energy choice and energy conservation.
For more information about enrollment in the Winter Reconnect Order, payment plans or budget billing, customers should contact their electric or natural gas utility. Customers who have utility-related questions can call the PUCO’s Call Center at (800) 686-PUCO (7826) or visit [www.PUCO.ohio.gov]www.PUCO.ohio.gov
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.