BROWN COUNTY - Thousands of residents unable to pay their utilities will soonface the prospect of having them shut off.
The state says the companies have to keep utilities on no matterwhat from November first to April 15th. With the deadlineapproaching, many residents are looking for financial help.
Leslie Andrae and her friend Joyce of Denmark have high utilitybills they can't pay on their own.
"I think we owe $600 and we had one disconnection notice andfrom there we put a little in but before it got real out of controlwe 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 samesituation.
As the economy fluctuates, staff members have seen an 8%increase in people needing financial assistance to keep the lightsand natural gas on after April 15th. It estimates staff will helpup to 5,000 people this year with federal and state money.
"All day long I hear all sorts of stories of people losing theirjobs and this and that and utilities going up," said Adam Lotterwith Integrated Community Services Energy Specialist.
Area utility companies estimate thousands of customers willgradually be cut off starting mid next month.
WE Energies said about 61,000 customers in their coverage areamight be disconnected between now and next winter.
WPS said 12,000 people were disconnected last year, and itexpects a higher number this year. WPS also said the average billowed is slightly higher this year, about $700 compared with $650last year.
"It is a big deal because it's hard to get by without electricservice and generally that is what would be disconnected," saidKerry Spees with Wisconsin Public Service Spokesperson.
However, two customers who won't get cutoff this year are Leslieand Joyce. Integrated Community Services is going to help them payabout half of their utility bills.
"That's just one less stress we have to worry about and for methat's a lot of joy because we don't have a lot of money," saidAndrae.
Utility companies say those who don't qualify for assistancehave a better chance of keeping the power on if a payment plan isworked out.
Residents in danger of getting their utilities shut off willreceive a disconnection notice from their power company.
For more information on how to get energy assistance from thestate, call 1-866-HEATWIS.
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