For many families, the financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has been tough. Many people were laid off, while others changed careers due to unforeseen circumstances caused by a changing economy. As a result, many families have fallen behind on their utility bills.
Andrew Tinkham, Senior Outreach and Education Program Specialist with the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, joined the America’s Work Force Union Podcast to discuss the help that is available for families.
Behind on your bills? Payment plans are available
Tinkham said there are several programs available to help consumers who are struggling with their energy bills. Many families are currently facing high bills, especially given the intense heat and humidity of the summer.
If consumers fall behind on their utility bills, they can set up a payment plan. In Ohio, regulated utility companies are required to work out agreements with consumers to make plans more affordable when families get behind.
For example, the one-sixth payment plan divides what a family owes into six portions. The family then pays their current bill and the one-sixth portion each month until they have paid off their debt. Tinkham explained there are variations of this plan based on the monthly amount the consumer can afford to pay.
Such payment plans are available to all consumers who have utility services through regulated utility companies like AEP, FirstEnergy and Dominion.
Additional programs for families who need help
Those who fall behind on their bills may also qualify for the Summer Crisis Program. During the summer months, qualified consumers may receive up to $500 to pay an electric bill or repair a central air conditioning unit. In order to qualify for the program, households must have a gross annual income at or below 175 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. In addition to that income requirement, households must meet at least one of the following conditions:
Have at least one member who is 60 years or older.
Have a member with a medical need verified by a physician.
Have an electric disconnection notice or their electricity is currently disconnected.
Have a household member diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last 12 months.
More information about the program can be found on the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel website.
Caution urged with door-to-door utility salesmen
Tinkham also cautioned consumers about door-to-door salesmen who offer to change utility providers. He said such changes require extensive research and should not be made during these encounters. He pointed out that people are not required to answer the door and speak to these salesmen. Tinkham also cautioned against sharing their utility account information with these individuals.