Cold Weather Rule in effect; energy assistance available for mid-Missourians

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COLUMBIA - While it still may be warm out, Missouri's Cold Weather Rule is in effect until March 31, which means utility companies regulated by the Missouri Public Service Commission cannot shut off heat-related services if the temperature drops below 32 degrees.

However, when the temperature goes above 32, thousands of Missourians are at risk of having their heat and hot water services disconnected.

On Oct. 1, Central Missouri Community Action began accepting applications for disabled and older residents needing energy assistance through its Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. As of Nov. 1, the agency is accepting applications for all households.

Angela Hirsch, chief program officer at Central Missouri Community Action, says the agency does its best to prevent families from experiencing utility cutoffs in the winter. She said when a family's utilities are disconnected, there can be a fee to reconnect then.

"For so many families in central Missouri, that's a fee they can't afford," Hirsch said.

Hirsch said the low income assistance program includes energy assistance, a one-time benefit to those who apply, and a crisis program that allows families up to $800 in assistance.

According to Ameren Missouri, a 'no cut' day happens when "the National Weather Service local forecast between 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. for the following twenty-four hours predicts that the temperature will drop below thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit" or days when Ameren personnel "are not available to reconnect service where the temperature is predicted to drop below 32° (over weekends and holidays). 

Connie Taylor, Supervisor of Credit and Collection at Ameren Missouri, said Ameren tries to help low income families to heat their homes during the winter.

"Under the Cold Weather Rule period, there's an option to be able to spread your payments," Taylor said. "After you've paid the down payment, you can spread those payments over 12 months, so that's really helpful for a lot of our customers."

Additionally, Taylor encourages families who might need assistance to sign up now, before cold weather hits.

"It's just not too early from the application standpoint," Taylor said. "While Ameren Missouri, we don't
run the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, we do refer our customers to that program,
and it is important to get that application in prior to it being the deadline of the disconnection."

Central Missouri Community Action serves Audrain, Boone, Callaway, Cole, Cooper, Howard, Moniteau and Osage counties.

Families needing to apply for energy assistance can get an application from ShowMeAction.org, a family resource center in their county, or from the Department of Social Services' website.

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