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Needy Can Get Help, Time On Winter Utility Bills - The Journal News

By Jacob Fischler • Albany Bureau • November 5, 2010

ALBANY - The temperature is dropping and boilers are firing up, but rules now in effect can abate the cold reality some will face when they get their upcoming utility bill.

 

Since Nov. 1 and lasting through April 15, upstate utility companies are required to ensure that residents who cannot afford to pay their bills on time or have medical conditions that could be exacerbated without heat or electricity are not endangered.

The state Public Service Commission puts the rules in place every year during the cold-weather months.

"As we head into the cold-weather season, we must make sure residential customers are kept as safe as possible," PSC Chairman Garry Brown said in a statement.

During the months that the protections are available, if the utility user cannot afford to pay the bill but weather is determined to be severe by the PSC, the company won't turn off the heat.

Those who have serious problems paying their utility bill can apply for the federally funded Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides benefits to low-income households that cannot afford their heating bill or heating-equipment repair.

Patrick Stella, spokesman for utility National Grid, said programs such as Red Cross-sponsored "Care & Share" provide similar services as HEAP during the winter.

Budget plans are available during the year to balance payments for customers whose income cannot support a fluctuating utility bill.

In homes where all adults are blind, disabled or 62 or older and the other residents are 18 or younger, service providers are required to try to contact a resident by phone or in person three days before service is shut off.

Anyone who requires heat or electricity for medical reasons can have service extended for 30 days without proper payment and then an additional 30 days if necessary and inability to pay can be proved. For chronic medical conditions, longer extensions can be granted. Proof of medical necessity for electricity or heat must be provided in writing from a doctor or local board of health.

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