MILWAUKEE - Home utility disconnections have been on pause in Wisconsin since last fall. Now, there won’t be any residential disconnections until spring 2021, at the earliest.
At the Neighborhood House of Milwaukee, struggling families are grateful to receive one week’s worth of food. They’re also feeling a sense of relief to learn it just got a lot easier to keep their lights on at home.
Neighborhood House of Milwaukee
Mary Thompson said she's happy a Wisconsin moratorium on home utility disconnections has been extended. She lives in the same house as her nephew, who needs the internet to attend school.
“We all need help,” said Thompson. “Especially for the kids. Some of them can't go to school. They're on the computer.”
Staff at the Neighborhood House has witnessed firsthand the hardships that people in Milwaukee are facing. A pantry was opened in July, already serving nearly 2,000 people. The executive director applauded the extension of the moratorium on disconnections.
“In the case of a lot of the folks who live on the near west side, utility payments are a significant part of the expense lineup,” said Jeff Martinka, executive director of Neighborhood House of Milwaukee.
The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) voted to extend the moratorium through Nov. 1. On that date, Wisconsin’s annual moratorium on cold weather disconnections goes into effect. The earliest disconnections could resume is April 15.
“We've kept the lights on," said Brendan Conway, We Energies spokesman. "We've kept the natural gas flowing, and we're going to continue to do that as we head into the winter."
Conway wanted to remind customers the moratorium does not waive their utility bills. We Energies is offering payment plans, and Conway said some people may qualify for energy assistance.
“We know now is a difficult time for some people financially. Give us a call. We have lots of options available for customers,” said Conway.
Without this extension, more than 54,000 households faced disconnection. The PSC decided that keeping the lights on, plus their water and gas, was in the interest of public safety.
“People need to be able to wash their hands. People need to be able to keep safe distances from one another,” said Rebecca Cameron Valcq, chairwoman of the PSC.
Valcq says the PSC’s decision will help keep people in their homes and out of public places, where the coronavirus can spread.
“We've got the second-highest percent positive rate in the nation,” said Valcq.
According to the PSC, Wisconsin utility companies are already owed $235.7 million in unpaid electric, gas and water bills. The PSC and We Energies say it’s too soon to know whether the unpaid bills will lead to higher rates for all customers.
In Milwaukee, Thompson has already arranged a payment plan with We Energies.
“They work with you. If it doesn't go as planned, something happens, just call them,” said Thompson.
If paying your utility bill is a challenge, you may qualify for help from the Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program (WHEAP). On Oct. 1, WHEAP will receive additional funding from The CARES Act.
CLICK HERE for more on energy assistance in Milwaukee County.