Updated: Tuesday, 24 Mar 2009, 5:48 PM CDT
Published : Tuesday, 24 Mar 2009, 5:45 PM CDT
BROWN COUNTY - Thousands of residents unable to pay their utilities will soon face the prospect of having them shut off.
The state says the companies have to keep utilities on no matter what from November first to April 15th. With the deadline approaching, many residents are looking for financial help.
Leslie Andrae and her friend Joyce of Denmark have high utility bills they can't pay on their own.
"I think we owe $600 and we had one disconnection notice and from there we put a little in but before it got real out of control we thought, we better come here," said Andrae.
They headed to Integrated Community Services, a non-profit, that's financially helping hundreds of people a week in the same situation.
As the economy fluctuates, staff members have seen an 8% increase in people needing financial assistance to keep the lights and natural gas on after April 15th. It estimates staff will help up to 5,000 people this year with federal and state money.
"All day long I hear all sorts of stories of people losing their jobs and this and that and utilities going up," said Adam Lotter with Integrated Community Services Energy Specialist.
Area utility companies estimate thousands of customers will gradually be cut off starting mid next month.
WE Energies said about 61,000 customers in their coverage area might be disconnected between now and next winter.
WPS said 12,000 people were disconnected last year, and it expects a higher number this year. WPS also said the average bill owed is slightly higher this year, about $700 compared with $650 last year.
"It is a big deal because it's hard to get by without electric service and generally that is what would be disconnected," said Kerry Spees with Wisconsin Public Service Spokesperson.
However, two customers who won't get cutoff this year are Leslie and Joyce. Integrated Community Services is going to help them pay about half of their utility bills.
"That's just one less stress we have to worry about and for me that's a lot of joy because we don't have a lot of money," said Andrae.
Utility companies say those who don't qualify for assistance have a better chance of keeping the power on if a payment plan is worked out.
Residents in danger of getting their utilities shut off will receive a disconnection notice from their power company.
For more information on how to get energy assistance from the
state, call 1-866-HEATWIS.