Both state utility officials and local Indiana aid agencies have said that the bitter cold winter weather and chilly economic climate have caused thousands of Indiana families to be unable to pay their utility bills and due to have their electric power shut off. The state-mandated November to March moratorium on utility shutoffs, which prevented utility companies from shutting off power, ended this week. This has now caused long lines of NIPSCO customers who need and are seeking help from utility bill assistance programs.
As just one example, NIPSCO has mailed out almost 10 percent more utility service shutoff notices this spring than in 2008, officials said, though utility spokesman Nick Meyer would not say the exact number of how many notices were mailed or how many Indiana families had their power shut off last year because they did not pay their energy bills.
In addition, applications for the Indiana state's Energy Assistance Program, which provides utility bill assistance for needy Indiana households, increased an astounding 30 percent in the first quarter of 2009, and were up 52 percent so far in February, said Jane Hopkins, director of community services for Northwest Indiana Community Action. More than a quarter of the requests for assistance were first-time applicants, and utility company caseworkers said most new applicants for the utility bill help said they fell behind on paying their bills after losing their jobs. Federal government funding for the state’s utility program has increased as well, and read more.
Energy bill assistance funds have doubled this year, and the average utility bill assistance provided household rose from $340 last year to about $460 for 2009, but Hopkins said the increases in assistance do not seem to be keeping pace with both the increasing heating bill costs and the income declines caused by rising unemployment rates in Indiana.