As winter approaches, thousands of northeast Indiana residents are seeking help with their heating bills to avoid disconnection.
Many will get help through private or federally-funded programs, and some may qualify for a total exemption from being disconnected. For example, a winter “disconnection moratorium” under Indiana law can help needy customers stay connected to their gas and electric providers.
To qualify for the moratorium – which started Saturday and runs through March 15 – a northeast Indiana customer must either be enrolled in the federally funded Energy Assistance Program through Community Action of Northeast Indiana; or qualify for the Energy Assistance Program, apply for it through CANI and provide proof of eligibility to the customer's utility.
The moratorium is one of several measures and programs aimed at helping people who cannot afford to heat their homes during the winter. Along with the federally-funded Energy Assistance Program, Indiana Michigan Power funds its own relief program. And the city of Fort Wayne offers loans up to $5,000 to help low-income people make furnace repairs.
Thousands of northeast Indiana residents struggle to pay their energy bills during the winter. Pam Brookshire, community action director with CANI, said the agency expects to help about 12,000 low-income households this year through the federal assistance program.
"We're seeing people every day who are facing a disconnect," Brookshire said.
Statewide, about 137,000 customers got help through the Energy Assistance Program last year, said Emily Duncan, spokeswoman for the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, which distributes the federal aid. That number is about average for the program, Duncan said.
Enrollment in the program changes slightly each year based on how much federal funding the state gets. Last year, it distributed about $80 million in aid, Duncan said.
Even if a customer qualifies for the moratorium, he or she still should try to work with the utility to set up a payment plan, Indiana Utility Consumer Counselor David Stippler said in a statement.
“It is essential that all consumers communicate with their utilities,” Stippler said. “If a consumer can't pay his or her bill in full, he or she should contact the utility, explain his or her personal situation, and try to set up payment arrangements.”
While the moratorium prevents customers from being disconnected during the winter, they are still responsible for their utility bills, the statement said.