Heat-Up St. Louis, a nonprofit energy assistance program, supports crucial parts of the Missouri Public Service Commission's Emergency Amendment to the Cold Weather Rule. Under the new Emergency Rule the residential customer can pay $250.00, or 25% of their past due gas bills, or whichever is less. The Emergency Amendment goes into effect on November 18 and continues through March 31 of next year. Heat-Up St. Louis petitioned the Commission who in turn responded with the Emergency Amendment.
"The PSC realizes that being without a home heating source, in this instance, natural gas, is a public health, safety and welfare issue," said Gentry W. Trotter, president of Heat-Up St. Louis, and a former 20 year consultant for a local gas utility. "This gives the working poor, disabled and seniors a chance to strengthen their basic food, heating, shelter and health budgets. Having 18 months to pay an expensive left-over gas bill (from last winter) will be a blessing for almost 50,000 Missourians."
The PSC emergency rule provides a more lenient payment term for reconnection for residential customers, and prohibits assessment of late payment charges on deferred amounts, and prohibits interested charges as well.
Heat-Up St. Louis also encourages the recent laid-off workers in the service sector, who have suffered due to terrorist actions on September 11, to take full advantage of the regular budget plans offered by local gas utilities. "This gives those in desperate need a chance to spread their current and upcoming winter gas bills over 12-months, and to take advantage of the 18-month equal payment plan for those huge last year past due gas bills."
However, Heat-Up St. Louis does not think that the area gas utilities should be allowed to recoup expenses related to implementing this PSC emergency amendment. "These utility companies are making lots of dough," said Trotter. "They have a humanitarian responsibility not to eventually pass on these costs with a new proposed rate hike increase in the foreseeable future."
Trotter also believes that the utility firms need to remove the caps they have placed on their local utility charities, and provide more actual cash dollars for the upcoming winter. "Despite the prediction that natural gas will fall partly due to a mid winter, it is being estimated nationally that more than 5 million people will need energy assistance this year," said Trotter. "Missouri has suffered greatly with high unemployment due to the weakened economy, and energy assistance groups will be facing regular disabled and the elderly on fixed incomes, who are making choices between their medication, eating, and heating, and now comes the new unemployed. We are in for a rocky winter."
Under the current Cold Weather Rule the customer must 1) contact the utility and inform them of their inability to bill their gas bill in full, 2) apply for energy assistance at their local community service or social service agency, and 3) make a minimum payment, and enter into a payment agreement.