More People In Danger Of Losing Heat Due To Unpaid Bills

UPDATED: Tuesday December 10, 2013 6:05 PM

There's a disturbing trend as the mercury falls.
More of your neighbors are struggling to pay their gas and electric bills this year compared to last.
The Ohio Consumers Counsel says this year, nearly 400,000 more people reported receiving disconnect notices statewide compared to last year.

Those who are being threatened with having their gas or electric shut off can stop it,  simply by making an appointment at their local Home Energy Assistant Program.

For one woman, she says the program is a life-saver.

Brandi Neiding delivered her son five weeks premature. Baby is doing fine, but Brandi says her finances are a bigger concern.

“Finances are right now are extremely tight, I just had a new baby, I'm out of work, I need to do what I need to do to keep my utilities on for my children", she said

Brandi came to the HEAP program to avoid having her utilities shut off.

By putting her on the PIP program - or Percentage of Income Payment Plan - she was able to stop the disconnect.

Last year, there were more than 175,000 households served by the Emergency Winter Crisis Program. The Program provides assistance once per heating season to eligible households that are disconnected, threatened with disconnection, or have less than a 10-day supply or less than 25 percent supply of bulk fuel in their tank.

Those households, serviced by a PUCO-regulated utility, must sign up for the Percentage of Income Payment Plan Plus (PIPP Plus) or another payment plan in order to receive emergency benefits. Bulk fuel users must certify in writing that they have less than a 10-day supply or less than 25 percent supply of bulk fuel in order to be eligible. The Winter Crisis Program can also help pay for heating system repairs in certain cases.

“Without this, come December 23, I would not have enough money to pay for electricity to provide for my children,” said Brandi.

In Franklin County last year, the number of people requiring heating assistance was more than 7,600, this year it's closer to 14,000 - according to the local Heating and Energy Assistance Program.

So many people are calling for energy assistance, the state has added more people to its call center. Normally, 17 people man the phones. This year it's 27.

“The average benefit is between $2-300 to get their electric and gas turned on,” said Randy Hunt,  Deputy Chief Office of Consumer Assitance.

He says Ohio receives $150 million a year from the federal government to help those in need of energy assistance, and experts say the number of those asking for help is growing.

“Unemployment, medical rates I think it’s very hard for people to sustain their households with little or no income,” says Regina Clemons Director of Emergency Assistance HEAP

As for Brandi Nieding, who is caring for three children including her 17 day old son, she has advice for those who may be too proud to ask for help.

“I know a lot of people are proud - lower your pride, come down here that's what they are here for don't sit out in the cold", she said.

For more information contact the State of Ohio.

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