Our January meeting took place on a cold winter’s day. Kate Agin, from Northeast Utilities (now Eversource Energy), spoke to us about gaining protection from termination of utility services. If income eligible, anyone is protected from utilities shut-off during the winter moratorium–Nov 15-Mar 15. Household incomes must qualify for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program or be 60% of the state’s median income. Documentation must be renewed every three months. Kate emphasized that protection from shut-off does not mean that people will not have to pay for the energy that they used during that period, and it doesn’t eliminate the unpaid bills. Many families do not understand that distinction. Utility bills accumulate during the protected time. One common myth is that the State is picking up for the unpaid bills. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Payment arrearage management plans are available, so Kate urges families to call if they are overwhelmed by mounting utility bills.
Shut-off protection is provided to income-eligible customers with serious or chronic diseases. A certification of illness must be completed by a physician, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, Board of Health, or other authorized agency. Medical certification must be renewed every 3 months (serious illness) or 6 months (chronic illness). Kate pointed out that income, not disability, determines hardship protection. Another common myth is that if a child needs electricity for a medical device, there is automatic protection for the household. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Families are qualified due to income, not illness.
Families with special needs children should contact their energy providers to place a “Medical Notice on File”. Although this doesn’t guarantee shut-off protection for financial reasons, this notice will alert the utility company about the family’s circumstance. Having this file in place DOES NOT impact the financial responsibility for the bills. Electric companies will provide generators during power outages, but the company must be informed about the family’s need.
Utility companies do have several programs to help low income households. If a Western Massachusetts family does not qualify for state or federal energy assistance, the Good Neighbor Fund may help. Kate urged us to tell our families not to be afraid to call the utility company. There are programs to help families.
For detailed information about energy assistance, including help from non-government programs, please check out MassResources.org. Energy assistance includes cord wood and wood pellets.
For important reminders about storm safety, check out this video: