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COLUMBIA - With winter right around the corner, the Missouri Cold Weather Rule is officially in effect.

The rule prohibits utility companies from shutting off gas or electric utilities during extreme cold temperatures.

Utility companies regulated by the Missouri Public Service Commission are required to follow the rule. The city of Columbia follows the rule even though it doesn't necessarily apply to companies run by cities, cooperatives or propane delivery companies.

City of Columbia Community Relations Director Steven Sapp said Columbia's policy states utility services can't be disconnected when temperatures drop below 32 degrees. Services also can't be shut off if temperatures are expected to drop below 32 degrees on any day when a utility would not be available to reconnect the service, such as the weekend or a holiday.

Sapp said the city takes into account the health of the family before disconnecting utilities. 

"It's one of the toughest decisions for a utility to make as to when we disconnect someone," he said.

He said there are certain rules that need to be followed, but there are "human thought processes" that take place while making decisions.

"It's not something that we take lightly," Sapp said. "On the other hand we are in the business of running a utility and that requires money to be paid for the services that people receive."

Also starting Wednesday, Central Missouri Community Action is accepting applications for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance program.

The program is federally funded and has two main components.

One is the Energy Assistance program, a one-time payment to help pay for utilities in the winter.

The other is the Energy Crisis Intervention Program, which runs for both summer and winter months. To apply you must have a disconnect notice or utilities already shut off.

Applicants can receive up to $800 in the winter and $300 in the summer if funds are available.

Jennifer Donaldson is the energy program manager at CMCA. She said elderly and disabled people can start receiving the program services on November 1, and the general public can get services starting December 1.

 "We have a lot of families coming in right now applying for energy assistance, we have a lot of families whose services are off, and we have a lot of families who are in threat of disconnect," Donaldson said.

"Families can pick up applications here at the Boone County Family Resource Center," Donaldson said. "Or they can print one off online at showmeaction.org."

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