By Charlotte Lane
Public Service Commission chairman
Sadly, many people in West Virginia have a hard time making ends meet. Utility bills are a necessity that everyone must fit into the budget. If a person struggles, there are resources that can help.
One of the first things to consider is budget billing. Many utilities offer this as a way to avoid sharp spikes or dips in one’s bill from month to month. Knowing how much one’s bill will be each month makes it easier to plan a budget.
If a person receives financial assistance through the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, one may qualify for a 20% discount on heating and water bills. The Special Reduced Residential Service Rate Program is administered by DHHR and is available from all natural gas and electric utilities, except municipal or cooperative service providers. West Virginia American Water also participates in the program.
If a person receives assistance from Social Security Supplemental Security Income, WV WORKS, Temporary Aid to Needy Families, or if one is at least 60 years old and receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program assistance, ask DHHR if one qualifies for the utility discount program.
Another source of possible assistance is United Way’s 211 program. Simply dial 2-1-1 to get contact information for agencies throughout the state that can help with utility bills and other household needs.
If a person falls behind on utility bills, ask the utility about a deferred payment plan. The Public Service Commission requires that customers who have been notified their service is scheduled to be terminated for non-payment be given an opportunity to enter into a deferred payment agreement. Customers who have accrued an uncontested outstanding balance they are unable to pay may qualify for a deferred payment plan that allows them up to 12 months to catch up on their bill. However, a person must request the plan before the utility discontinues the service, and current monthly bills must be paid in addition to the plan amount. Once service is disconnected, the company is not required to honor the request for a 12-month payment plan and may require a substantial portion of the balance due be paid in order to restore service.
Contact the Public Service Commission prior to a scheduled service termination if a person needs assistance in establishing a deferred payment agreement with an utility company. The staff will work with a person and one’s service provider to try to resolve the situation.