Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

On Tuesday, July 4, 2017, information appeared in many media outlets from the Associated Press (AP), which indicated that President Donald Trump has proposed eliminating heating aid for low-income Americans, claiming that it’s no longer necessary and rife with fraud. People needn’t worry about being left in the cold, he says, because utilities cannot cut off customers in the dead of winter.

Although the AP states he is wrong on all counts, it only addresses the fact that it is not rife with fraud and ignores the fact that people can and have been shut off from their gas and/or electric services no matter what time of the year it is. I appreciated the fact that 86-year-old Richard Perkins was quoted as always worrying about how he is going to stay warm during the cold Maine winters. He heats with fuel oil, which is something that LIHEAP covers, in addition to propane, coal, wood, kerosene, and regulated/non-regulated utilities. We struggle to keep the most vulnerable warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

Historically, this has been an issue for many low income Americans, although I can only speak to the rules governing such actions by utility companies in Ohio. My research indicates that most states have some form of protection during the coldest winter and warmest summer weather, but these protections are limited by a variety of regulations enacted, as in the case of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. There was only one Moratorium on Disconnects during the winter of 1982-1983, which prevented the regulated gas and electric companies, such as what was formerly known as Ohio Power, Columbia Gas and East Ohio Gas, from disconnecting customers no matter what their income or payment history.

I started working for HARCATUS in 1977 and I have seen many households lose their service because they didn’t think the utility company would be so mean as to shut them off when temperatures were either very, very cold or very, very warm. Some still seem to think that having an infant in the home will stop a disconnect. It will not.

There are protections for those with a documented medical condition and in some instances, the elderly. These are limited to a total of 90 days in a 12-month period. It is a legal process that involves both the utility company and the physician.

This is why we have the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) Plus in Ohio (which is now a standard used by many other states across the country). I was personally responsible for the creation of PIPP, with the help of a few partners across the state, in the early 1980’s because we had horrible winter weather and no means of keeping people from literally freezing in their homes. We do now, but I do not advise pressing your luck. PIPP Plus must be paid on time and in full each month, or you must pay the whole amount due or any payment plan that has been officially arranged in lieu of full payment. PIPP Plus is only for those regulated utility customers with a very low income, but there are many payment plan options for regulated utility customers who cannot afford to pay exactly what is due each month.

HARCATUS Tri-County Community Action Organization and 48 other Community Action Organizations/Agencies in the State of Ohio are offering the HEAP Summer Crisis Program until Aug. 31 to those income-eligible households with a member who has a medical condition certified by a licensed physician or registered nurse practitioner, or those who are 60 years of age or older. The HEAP Summer Cooling Program may help with one unpaid electric bill or to assist with the repair of central air conditioning. There does not need to be a disconnect notice.  Some households may qualify for a room air conditioner or a fan. We are always available to explain PIPP Plus or other payment plans to anyone with questions. For a Summer Crisis Program appointment, please call 1-855-806-9650. Additional information can also be found at www.energyhelp.ohio.gov or by calling (800) 282-0880.

Only income-eligible households with a member who has a medical condition certified by a licensed physician or registered nurse practitioner, or those who are 60 years of age or older will be able to apply for assistance.  Applicants are required to provide complete household income documentation, proof of Social Security numbers, utility information, and other items in order to receive consideration for assistance.

PIPP Plus or Grad PIPP customers over 60 or with a medically qualifying condition will not be eligible for bill payment assistance, but may still be able to receive assistance with a room air conditioner or a fan.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call the HARCATUS Family Support Toll Free Crisis Line at 1-855-806-9650.


Michele Lucas

Community Services Director

HARCATUS Tri-County CAO, Inc.

New Philadelphia, OH



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