April 7, 2004
PROGRAMS TO HELP PAY ELECTRIC BILLS
By: Kevin E. McCarthy, Principal Analyst
You asked for a description of programs that can help people pay their electric bills. Much of the information in this report is taken from a brochure prepared by the Department of Social Services (DSS), which is available on its Website, http://www.dss.state.ct.us/svcs/energy/brochure.pdf.
Low- and moderate-income people who use electricity for heating may be eligible for help under the Connecticut Energy Assistance Program (CEAP) and the Contingency Heating Assistance Program (CHAP), which are administered by DSS in conjunction with community action agencies. They also may be eligible for assistance under delinquency forgiveness programs administered by the electric companies. Households with incomes too high to qualify for CEAP may be eligible for assistance from Operation Fuel, a non-profit agency. In addition, many towns have private fuel banks that provide winter energy assistance to residents who do not qualify for the above programs.
By law, electric companies cannot terminate service to a wide range of heating and non-heating customers from November 1 through April 15. This ban applies to “hardship” customers, including those whose sole source of income is Social Security or unemployment compensation and those with a seriously ill household member. During the rest of the year, the companies must offer such customers who are behind on their bills an opportunity to enter into a reasonable amortization agreement. A customer who keeps current with such an agreement is protected from termination. OLR memo 2004-R-0064 provides additional information on termination protection.
We are unaware of any program specifically designed to help non-heating customers pay their electric bill.
CONNECTICUT ENERGY ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
CEAP helps households pay for their heating bills. A household whose heating costs are included in its rent may also apply for assistance.
To receive assistance, the household must have an income below 150% of the federal poverty level (below 200% for households with members who are 60 and over or disabled). The federal poverty level varies with household size, for a three-person household it is $15,260. Households can have no more than $7,000 in liquid assets ($10,000 in the case of homeowners), unless their income and assets combined fall under the program's income limits.
Households that qualify for the program are eligible for a basic benefit that varies by their income level, with higher benefits for a household that contain elderly or disabled member or a child under age six. Qualifying households may also be eligible for free weatherization assistance, such as insulation of attics and walls. The last day to apply for the program is April 30.
CONTINGENCY HEATING ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
CHAP serves Connecticut households with incomes as high as 60% of the statewide median income. For example, an individual senior citizen or person with a disability with annual income as high as $25,745 can be eligible. A family of three can have an annual income as high as $41,588 to be eligible. Homeowners and renters who pay for their own heat and whose primary heat source is electricity, gas, or a deliverable fuel are eligible for $200 in payments. A DSS Website, http://www.dss.state.ct.us/svcs/energy/, has the names and telephone numbers of the community action agencies that take applications for CEAP and CHAP.
DELINQUENCY FORGIVENESS PROGRAMS
Electric company customers who use electricity for heating are also eligible for a delinquency forgiveness program administered by the companies. The company must require a customer who seeks to participate in the program to:
1. apply and be eligible for benefits under CEAP;
2. authorize the electric company to send a copy of his monthly bill directly to any energy assistance agency for payment; and
3. enter into, and comply with, an amortization agreement consistent with the Department of Public Utilities Control's (DPUC) policies and decisions which reduce the customer's bill by the amount of benefits the company reasonably expects to receive from CEAP or other energy assistance programs.
The company must budget a customer's payments over a 12-month period, including an affordable additional amount to pay for any arrearage. The payment plan must be designed so that the customer will not lose any energy assistance benefits. When a customer authorizes the company to bill an energy assistance agency directly, the agency must pay the company directly.
If the customer meets these requirements either from the time his account becomes delinquent or from November 1 to April 30, the company must forgive an amount equal to his heating payments plus the amount paid by CEAP between November 1 and April 30. The company must forgive an additional amount equal to the customer's payment plus any payments made on his behalf if he continues to comply with the payment plan from April 30 to October 31. The benefits provided under the act cannot result in a credit balance in the customer's account. Customers cannot be denied benefits due to company errors.
If the customer fails to comply with the amortization agreement and related requirements of a DPUC decision issued in place of the agreement, the company can terminate his service. However, the termination cannot occur between November 1 and April 15 and must follow all applicable regulations. The law prohibits electric and gas utilities from terminating service for poor, unemployed, and seriously ill customers during this period.
Operation Fuel, a non-profit organization, provides crisis benefits during the heating season to households with incomes of between 150% and 200% of the federal poverty level who do not qualify for CEAP. In most cases, the maximum benefit is a grant of $250 per year. Further information about this program is available at http://www.operationfuel.org/Info.htm.