Can’t pay your utility bill? There is help for keeping the heat on this winter
With Kansas home heating gas prices soaring, it may be harder than ever for some families to keep up with their utility bills. The Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC), which regulates utility companies, has a “cold weather rule” that protects people from having their heat shut off. The cold weather rule is in effect between Nov. 1 and March 31 when temperatures fall below 35 degrees – but it doesn’t apply to everyone. Whether you are protected depends on who your utility company is.
If you are struggling with utility bills, it’s important to know whether the protections apply to you and how to use them. The Wichita Beacon asks and answers some of the basic questions about how this works.
What is the Kansas cold weather rule?
The cold weather rule was made in 1983 to protect Kansans from cold weather in winter months if their utilities fall under the jurisdiction of the KCC.
It is active from Nov. 1 until March 31. During this time, utility companies under KCC must do two things: Offer a 12-month repayment plan for those behind on their payments and not shut off any utilities if the temperature drops below 35 degrees.
However, utility companies may shut off anyone’s gas, water or electricity if the temperature stays above 35 degrees for a 48-hour period. That is unless a repayment plan has been agreed on and a payment has not been missed on that repayment plan.
Who does the the Kansas cold weather rule protect?
The Kansas cold weather rule applies to utilities regulated by the Kansas Corporation Commission. That includes the largest electric provider and the two largest gas providers serving Wichita and Sedgwick County – Evergy, Kansas Gas Service and Black Hills Energy. Many families do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Kansas cold weather rule set by the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC). Luckily, the largest electricity provider and the two largest gas providers in Sedgwick County fall under KCC’s cold weather rule.
But not everyone in Sedgwick County uses those utility companies. People living in smaller towns and rural areas may be served by an unregulated utility. If this applies to you, you are not in KCC’s jurisdiction and the cold weather rule does not apply.
The difference depends on what the KCC regulates. The state agency monitors corporations and companies but does not hold power over city-run utilities and cooperatives because they are not legally companies. The list of all utility companies under KCC – and subject to the cold weather rule – can be found on their website.
How do I prevent disconnection of my utilities?
If your utility is under the jurisdiction of the KCC and you know you are about to miss a payment or cannot pay a full bill, call the utility company and arrange a payment plan. If you have already missed a payment, you can still call and make arrangements to keep your power on.
Contact info for the major utility companies:
Kansas Gas Service: 1-800-794-4780
Black Hills: 1-888-890-5554
Under the cold weather rule, utilities under KCC must offer a 12-month payment plan.
If your utility is not under KCC’s jurisdiction, you can still call and ask if they have their own cold weather rule or if they offer repayment plans.
Sedgwick County Electric Cooperative, operating mostly on the western side of Sedgwick County, is the largest energy cooperative not governed by the Kansas cold weather rule. However, they have their own cold weather rule, so it is always good to check.
I’m not covered and I can’t afford my bill. What can I do?
There are many programs and organizations that offer help paying utility bills. The Kansas Department for Children and Families keeps a list of charities that may offer assistance to families that need help paying their utility bills. You can enter your city and browse local options. The Center of Hope and United Way are two charities that help with utility payments in Sedgwick County.
If your utility company is under the jurisdiction of the KCC, they also must provide a list of utility assistance options if asked.
My power or heat is already off. What should I do?
Sometimes, against best efforts, things go wrong. If your power or gas is turned off and you do not have access to heat, do not panic. Call your utility company to find out if they have a repayment plan option that can get your heat turned back on. If you need assistance, contact one of the charities mentioned above. If you have a car, you can use it for warmth until the heat is restored. If the heat will be off for multiple days, consider staying with a friend or family member until you are able to restore heat to your residence.
What can I do to prepare for next year?
If you expect to have trouble with utility payments in 2023, you can apply for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) when it opens for enrollment, usually on the first business day of January.
LIEAP gives a one-time payment to help cover utility costs. To qualify, you must live at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level – about $34,500 for a family of three – and be the party responsible for utility payments at your property.