Winter protection plans.
Several states prevent utility companies from shutting off a customers heat during the cold winter months. Generally, the rules and regulation apply to colder regions in the northern part of the country, but there are some exceptions. The so called Winter Protection Plans were created to protect the most vulnerable population, and this can include the elderly, low income families with young children, the disabled, and people that are sick.
Each state and program will have its own conditions and the plan could potentially be called a different name. Some utility companies will even offer this service to customers, even if the state doesn’t mandate it. However the most common term that applies to these is the Winter Protection Plan, but be aware of different names that may be available state or company. They are put into place for any regulated electric and natural gas companies. Many rural electric cooperatives also will be governed by these plans. The terms and conditions put into place by each state will vary as well. Some examples include the following.
- There may be date ranges in which they are effective. They will usually provide relief from electric or natural gas service shut-off and high heating bill payments between November and April.
- The applicant needs to meet age or other criteria. For example, protections are usually for residents that are age 62 or older. Or the household that applies may have a family member under the age of 10.
- Income and poverty guidelines are in place. The plans are only for low income families. Sometimes if the family receive cash assistance, SNAP Food Stamps or Medicaid they will automatically qualify.
When entering into a Winter Protection Plan, the amount due on your account will still need to be repaid, but over time. So it is not as if any fees or outstanding charges are waived. The account will normally just need to be paid over the course over several months and using some type of payment plan. In addition, some monthly contributions may need to be made towards your unpaid bills as well. Some examples of the financial conditions of a winter protection plan could be as follows.
States or energy companies will generally allow low-income customers to make some form of monthly payments that will be based on a percentage of their income or part charges on their account. So for example, the household may need to pay at least 5% of their estimated annual bill or pay say 10% of the amount of their bill. The bottom line is that some form of contribution is generally needed to avoid shut-off during the timeframe in question.
Low-income customers with a balance on their account will usually need to pay a portion of the amount owed in some form of installment between the time they apply for any winter protection plan and the following heating season. While those payments are usually required between November and April, they are usually encouraged to pay a portion of their bill so to avoid higher charges and payments when the protection period ends. No disconnection will be allowed if the customer agrees to deferred or extended payment agreement.
At the end of the winter protection period, anyone who has enrolled, which would include both senior citizens and low-income families, and anyone that is taking part in the plan must pay off any money owed. If households make the required payment during the winter months, the remainder of their bill is normally deferred until April, after which they have several months to pay off the balance on their account. The heating or gas company will usually require the payments to be made in installments between April and November, or the start of the following heating system. If fraud or failure to make monthly payments on your account occur, then the utility company can suspend the customer’s service until all heating bills are repaid in full.
Some states will also prevent a customer’s electric or natural gas service from being disconnected if the forecast predicts a cold stretch of weather coming up. For example, if the temperature is predicted to be 32 or lower during the next 24 hours, then your utility or heating service can’t be shut off. Some of this can even apply to hot weather as well. For example, the energy company may not be able to disconnect the power for elderly or disabled when temperature is over 95 degrees or if someone in the family is facing a medical emergency.
As indicated, many states also put protections in place for the sick. Utility companies will need to honor a doctor’s certificate in prescribed form that one of their customers or a permanent resident of the home has a serious medical condition. The note will also need to state that a suspension of their heating service would result in substantial risk of grave impairment or maybe even death. Generally this physician certificate can be given to the energy company by telephone by doctor, R.N., nurse or some form of government or non-profit agency that is involved in providing medical care.
Some states will also allow more flexibility to have your power reconnected. So for example, say your heat was shut off before the winter protection plan started. In these cases, the qualified customer may have their service restored by making an initial payment on their account. The amounts due will vary, but it could be say up to 50% of their outstanding balance or a fixed dollar amount of say $500, whichever is less. The balance will need to be repaid over time using some form of payment plan. State laws may also allow the reconnection of registered disabled or elderly customers who meet certain income guidelines, if they make a minimum payment on their account.
Call your energy provider to inquire about any type of plans. Or you can call your state below. Many companies will also link customers with information on non-profit agencies or other government resources that can help. There are often a number of other regional and national heating bill assistance programs, places to turn to for child and elder care, emergency cold weather shelters, discounted heating oil, and more.
Information for protection plans by state
Arkansas, November 1 - March 31, however it is temperature-based. Call 800-482-1164.
Connecticut date range is November 1 - May 1, call 800-382-4586.
Delaware, November 15 - April 15. Telephone number is 800-282-8574.
Georgia, November 15 - March 15. There are also hot weather plans for the summer months. Dial 800-282-5813 for information.
Idaho Winter Protection Dates are from December 1 - February 28. Call 800-432-0369.
Illinois, December 1-March 31 and summer months as well. Call 800-524-0795.
Indiana, December 1 - March 15. 800-851-4268
Iowa, November 1-April 1, call 877-565-4450
Kansas, November 1 - March 31 800-662-0027.
Maine, November 15-April 15. Main phone - 800-452-4699.
Maryland, November 1 - March 31. Main phone 800-492-0474.
Massachusetts Winter Protection Dates are from November 15-March 15. Dial 877-886-5066 for information.
Michigan, November 1-March 31, 800-292-9555
Minnesota, October 15-April 15, 800-657-3782
Mississippi, December 1-March 31. Cal either 800-356-6428, 800-356-6430 or 800-356-6429.
Missouri, November 1-March 31 800-393-4211
Montana, November 1-April 1, 800-646-615
Nebraska, November 1-March 31, telephone number is 800-526-0017
New Hampshire, November 15-March 31, call 800-852-3793
New Jersey, November 15-March 15, 800-624-0241
New Mexico, November 15-March 15. Call 888-427-5772
New York has a limited plan that covers a two-week period encompassing Christmas and New Year's. Telephone number is 800-342-3355
North Carolina. November 1-March 31. Dial 866-380-9816.
Ohio, October 15-April 15, main phone 800-686-7826
Oklahoma, November 15-April 15. Main phone number is 800-522-8154
Pennsylvania, December 1-March 31. Call 800-692-7380.
Rhode Island, November 1-April 30. Call 401-941-4500 for information.
South Carolina has a temperature-based winter protection plan from December 1-March 31. Call 800-922-1531
South Dakota, November 1-March 31. Telephone number is 800-332-1782
Utah, November 15-March 15. Main number is 800-874-0904
Vermont, November 1-March 31. Dial 800-622-4496.
Washington, November 15-March 15, call 888-333-9882
West Virginia, December 1-February 28. Main number is 800-642-8544.
Wisconsin, November 1-April 15. Call 800-225-7729.
Wyoming, November 1-April 30. Main number is 888-570-9905.