Avoiding Utility Disconnections *Updated July 23*
On July 23, the Commission voted 2-1 to extend the temporary disconnection moratorium for residential utility customers until September 1, 2020. Previously, on June 26, the Public Service Commission decided to lift the temporary prohibition against disconnecting or refusing service and allow utilities to issue disconnection notices on July 15 and actually disconnect customers on July 25, 2020. More details are expected once the Commission issues a formal order reflecting its July 23rd meeting. Check this page for updates.
Does this mean I don't have to pay my utility bill?
No. If you are able to pay your utility bills you should continue to do so. Even if your service will not be disconnected during this period, your bills will continue to accumulate. You will still owe this amount to the utility when the emergency order is eventually lifted and utilities begin disconnection proceedings again.
Again, continue to pay your utility bill if you are able to. The continuing public health emergency is not a free pass on your utility bills.
What if I can't pay the entire amount due?
We strongly recommend that you make at least partial payments on your bills as you are able. Contact your utility/utilities as soon as possible to discuss a Deferred Payment Agreement (DPA). Even if your service will not be disconnected during this period, your bills will continue to accumulate. Any payments you can make now will reduce the amount you owe when utilities are allowed to begin disconnection proceedings again.
What if I am behind on my bills?
Call your utility and ask to arrange a Deferred Payment Agrement (DPA) that works given your personal financial circumstances. Ask them to waive any late fees during this period. If you or member of your family has tested positive for COVID-19 make sure to tell your utility. If you have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis in other ways, make sure to tell them.
What if i have a payment agreement and my financial situation has changed?
If your financial circumstances change and you are no longer able to follow your payment arrangement, contact your utility again to discuss restructuring the arrangement based on your new situation.
What if I am worried my service will be disconnected for non-payment?
If you are worried about your service being disconnected for non-payment, call your utility and make sure that it will not be disconnected. You will probably have to make and follow a payment arrangement. If you have been directly affected by the COVID-19 emergency, make sure to tell them.
The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin has resources for customers at psc.wi.gov
Utility customers should contact their utilities about disconnections and getting reconnected if already shut off.
On March 12, 2020, Governor Evers issued Executive Order #72, declaring a public health emergency in response to the COVID-19 Coronavirus. On March 13, 2020, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) ordered the closure of all public and privates schools. On March 18, 2020, DHS ordered that the number of children and staff present at child care settings be restricted and authorized the voluntary closure of child care settings.
On March 20, 2020, DHS ordered the prohibition, with certain exceptions, of public and private gatherings of 10 or more people, extended the ordered school closure until the end of the public health emergency, and issued “social distancing” guidelines.
On March 20, 2020, requested that Governor Evers exercise his authority to temporarily suspend certain provisions of Wisconsin Code relating to service rules for electric, natural gas, and water public utilities, that limited the manner in which the Commission may structure utility tariffs in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
By executive order from Gov. Tony Evers, the Wisconsin PSC issued an order on March 24 implementing a moratorium on disconnections for utility customers and extended the winter heating moratorium for electric and natural gas customers for the duration of the Public Health Emergency. That same order directed utilities to take steps to re-connect customers who have been shut off. The PSC also barred utility disconnection of businesses and waived late payment penalties and re-connection deposits during the emergency.
Due to a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling, the public health emergency declared by the Governor under Executive Order #72 automatically expired on May 11, 2020, 60 days after it was declared, and the Safer at Home order was lifted on May 13, 2020.
Citing the court-ordered end to the Safer-at-Home order, and improving COVID-19 statistics in Wisconsin, the Public Service Commission issued an order revoking many of the protections established under the public health emergency, allowing utilities to begin issuing disconnection notices beginning July 15, disconnecting customers on July 25.
On July 23, 2020, the PSC voted 2-1 to extend the temporary disconnection moratorium for residential utility customers until September 1, 2020.
CONTACT YOUR UTILITY
Here are COVID-19 resources for each of the state’s major electric, natural gas and water utilities:
The Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program is available for residents seeking assistance with electricity and heating bills. The state, in response to the Public Health Emergency, revised the eligibility requirements for residents who are seeking heating and electric assistance through the Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program (WHEAP).
Wisconsin will be getting additional WHEAP funding through the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, approved late last month by Congress.
WHEAP eligibility will now be based on the household’s previous month of income, rather than the former requirement of the previous three months of income. This move was made to ensure those who are recently affected by the COVID-19 response are able to receive assistance quickly.
The Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program (WHEAP) provides assistance for heating costs, electric costs, and energy crisis situations. Operating with federal and state funding, the program provides assistance to households across the state to help lower the burden incurred with monthly energy costs. More information:
Phone: 866-HEATWIS (866-432-8947)
Keep Wisconsin Warm/Cool Fund (KWWF) is a statewide, non-profit charitable effort established in 1996 to keep the heat and power on for our most vulnerable Wisconsinites (elderly, disabled, working families, veterans). Through public, private, and community partnerships, KWWF may be able to provide preventative services and financial assistance to alleviate potential life-threatening energy-related emergencies. More information: www.kwwf.org or 800-891-9276
Focus on Energy, Wisconsin utilities’ statewide energy efficiency program, is adjusting to the pandemic and has cancelled in-person visits by consultants to do home energy assessments.
However, free energy packs are still available from Focus, and you can find an array of products to help save energy at Focus’ online marketplace. and Focus has some #SaferAtHome energy tips for around the house here.
More information: www.focusonenergy.com or 800-762-7077.
Focus on Energy partners with CUB an outreach and education sponsor for CUB’s 40th Anniversary. For more ideas on energy savings, check out CUB’s Consumer Resources page.
Some U.S. utilities have reported an uptick in scammers taking advantage of the COVID-19 emergency. A caller may demand immediate payment to prevent your service from being disconnected. Check out CUB’s Stopping Scams Guide here.
Some common scams:
- A caller whose phone number matches your utility aggressively says your account is overdue and service will be disconnected if a large payment is not made ASAP. They instruct you to quickly buy a prepaid debit card and call back with the debit card number.
- Suspicious emails appearing to be from your utility may seek account or personal information. Utilities won’t ask for bill payment info via email. Check the sender’s email address: It may be slightly, or markedly, different from the one your utility uses.
Utilities will never call to threaten shut-off, and during the pandemic all disconnections are barred by Gov. Evers’ executive orders.
COVID-19 is affecting more than just the ability to pay utility bills
With $25 million from the federal CARES Act, Wisconsin renters are eligible for up to $3,000 in rental assistance for payment of rental assistance and/or security deposits. Eligible applicants must be an adult Wisconsin resident with a household income at or below 80% of the county median income during the month prior to applying for assistance.
Community Action Agency Programs
Local Rental Assistance Programs
Residents in southeastern Wisconsin and Dane County may be eligible for rental assistance through local programs:
- Milwaukee County: Milwaukee County has launched a $10 million housing initiative aimed at addressing the needs of county residents who are behind on rent, facing eviction or experiencing short-term difficulty paying their mortgages.
- Dane County: The Tenant Resource Center is partnering with Dane County Human Services on a $10 million rental assistance program, providing assistance with up to four months’ rent.
- Eau Claire, Waukesha, and Racine: Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan (LSS) offers an eviction prevention program for residents of Eau Claire, Waukesha and Racine.