October 31, 2014—As we enter November and the mercury in thermometers begins to retreat, low-income households in many states are entering the time of year when rules either stop utilities from disconnecting service or at least impose more restrictions.
One of the states that already entered a date-specific timeframe is Minnesota, which had its "Cold Weather Rule" go into effect on October 15. The rule provides protection to electricity and natural gas users until April 15. However, low-income households still have to be proactive and enter into payment plans with their utility to keep from being disconnected. If a household is at or below 50 percent of the state median income, the plan cannot require the monthly payment to be more than 10 percent of the household's income. If a household and the utility cannot agree on a payment plan, the household can appeal to the Public Utilities Commission, which will establish a payment agreement.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have regulations either in their statutes or administrative codes that outline circumstances in which a utility cannot simply disconnect a customer. Of those, 15 include language related to temperature restrictions based on freezing and/or extremely hot weather. Twenty-five states include provisions in their "no disconnection" policies that reference specific start dates in November, while 21 have ending dates in March. Some states include both temperature and date criteria in their policies, while others include nothing weather related.
For more information about disconnection policies in each state, see the Clearinghouse website.
Sources: Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, LIHEAP Clearinghouse