The annual winter moratorium that prevents utility providers from disconnecting residential services for nonpayment ends on April 15.
This means thousands of Milwaukee residents could be without gas and electricity in their homes soon if they don’t act soon.
“Contact us today. It doesn’t matter how much you owe, you are at no risk of disconnection if you contact us,” said Brendan Conway, a spokesman for We Energies, which serves 278,000 customers in Milwaukee and 1.1 million statewide.
In 2022, 8,000 people were at risk for disconnection when the moratorium ended. The year before, the number was 12,000, Conway said. In 2020, the moratorium was extended through Oct. 1 because of coronavirus concerns.
A disconnection from utility services is especially dangerous for vulnerable populations, including those who are very ill, very young or the elderly. A disconnection can make existing illnesses or conditions worse, as utility services are often essential for refrigerating medications, powering needed medical equipment and maintaining a safe temperature in the home, according to the Wisconsin Department of Administration.
Another danger related to disconnections is the use of candles for light. According to the National Fire Protection Association, candles caused 2% of reported home fires, 3% of home fire deaths, 6% of home fire injuries and 4% of the direct property damage in home fires from 2015 to 2019.
Conway said that We Energies has been sending letters and calling customers who are behind on their bill to urge them to set up a payment plan with the company or to direct them to other services for help.
“A disconnection always has been and always will be a last resort,” Conway said.
For those who don’t want to contact We Energies or are hesitant, there is also an option to set up a payment plan online.
The sooner the better
“Don’t see that date on the calendar and start to get worried about it,” Conway said. “The sooner you contact us the better.”
The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, or PSC, and the Department of Administration have also urged customers to work proactively to avoid a shutoff.
“Wisconsinites should start making a plan with their utility providers, but I encourage them to seek additional assistance through the Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program and contact the Public Service Commission if more help is needed,” PSC Chairperson Rebecca Cameron Valcq said.
The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin supports customers by resolving disputes with utilities regarding electric and natural gas service and other services. The commission can help with payment arrangements, disconnection of service and other billing and utility service concerns, Meghan Sovey, communications director for the PSC, said.
“The PSC remains committed to improving energy affordability and reducing Wisconsinites’ energy burden,” she said.
How you can get help
The Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program, commonly referred to as the Energy Assistance Program or WHEAP, provided nearly $120 million in support for monthly utility expenses to more than 200,000 customers last fiscal year. This year, the program has already provided $83 million to more than 153,000 households.
WHEAP assistance involves a one-time payment during the heating season (Oct. 1-May 15) that covers a portion of energy costs. The amount of the energy assistance payment depends on household income and size, energy costs and other factors. To be eligible for energy assistance through WHEAP, you must be at 60% of state median income or lower. Here’s more information about the WHEAP program.
You can apply for the Energy Assistance Program locally through UMOS and Community Advocates, two local nonprofits that provide a variety of services to residents. You can schedule an appointment, apply online , call 414-270-4653, or call 2-1-1 for assistance scheduling an appointment.
Residents can also access several other programs available to help, including the Keep Wisconsin Warm/Cool Fund and the affiliated Heat and Housing for Heroes Campaign, which serves veterans and their families who need energy assistance. We Energies donated $4 million to that fund last year.
What you need to apply for energy assistance
- Social Security numbers and dates of birth.
- Proof of Wisconsin residency/U.S. citizenship.
- Utility account number, household heating costs for the last 12 months and copies of your bill.
- The name, address, phone number of your landlord or property management company, and your lease/rental agreement.
- Income information, such as check stubs, unemployment information, for one month before the application.
Tips to avoid cutoffs next year
Conway said that one popular option to help We Energies customers avoid being overwhelmed when gas costs increase during the winter is a budget-billing option. Budget billing takes into account your average spending throughout the year and spreads it out evenly across each month. This option helps people know what to expect on their bill each month, although the average is recalculated each six months, he said.
More energy saving tips are available on the We Energies website.
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