More than 1,200 people came through the doors of the Community Renewal Team offices on April 26, seeking relief from high electric and natural gas bills. Hartford’s Utility Day was scheduled at the close of the so-called “No Freeze Moratorium,” during which utilities are prohibited from shutting off electricity or gas for nonpayment of bills.
With the moratorium ending on May 1, hundreds of families throughout the state attended seven Utility Days, at which representatives from Northeast Utilities and Connecticut Natural Gas offered payment plans, and community action agencies enrolled customers into Low Income Home Energy Assistance Plan. Across the state, these Utility Days attracted approximately 30 percent more households in 2008 than in 2007.
In Hartford, CRT saw 675 families concerned about their utility bills. While they waited to meet with a utility representative, customers had the opportunity to speak with Statewide Legal Services of Connecticut, one of the organizers of the event; enroll their children in Head Start or HUSKY Health Insurance; learn about the collection of child support payments; pre-qualify for food stamps; and discuss home energy conservation.
Almost all of the families that came to the event had previously been determined to be “hardship cases” because of income and family size. The utilities were offering a variety of payment options: some customers might be forgiven past due amounts if they adhere to a monthly payment plan based on average monthly usage; others could receive an extended period to pay off past due amounts. Many who came to CRT indicated that they owed more than $2,000, because of escalating heating costs and reduced work hours.
Pat Walker, CRT’s Energy Assistance Manager, said that advance planning and set-up ensured a smooth flow of customers. Utility representatives were able to process payment plans for about 75 families per hour.