In 2023, Ohio’s 135th General Assembly introduced Senate Bill 150, a piece of legislation that could have significant implications for low-income families in Cuyahoga County.
The bill, sponsored by Senator Kent Smith (D-Euclid) and co-sponsored by Senators Nickie J. Antonio (D-Columbus) and William P. DeMora (D-Columbus), seeks to address the issue of utility service disconnections for nonpayment throughout the winter months. If passed, the bill would provide much-needed protection to vulnerable households.
Senate Bill 150 would prohibit the termination of electric or gas service to certain households and establish a payment plan for those services. It outlines specific criteria under which electric and gas service providers would not be able to disconnect services to residential customers or households with children ages five and younger, individuals aged 65 and older, those with disabilities, illnesses, and pregnant women. Eligible customers who meet the criteria would be enrolled in a payment plan that would require them to pay either 7.5-percent of their monthly net income or one-twelfth of their combined electric and gas bills before enrollment, whichever is lower. Qualifying criteria includes those who are at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. Individuals and families can verify their eligibility by using either their 1040 or award letter from Ohio Works First, SSI income, PIPP Plus participation, HEAP participation, SNAP benefits, or publicly funded childcare.
The bill places the financial responsibility for the costs of providing services to eligible customers on the utility companies. The companies would not be able to pass the costs on to other customers through rate increases, fares or tolls.
Lastly, Senate Bill 150 says utility companies would need to file quarterly written reporters on service disconnections for nonpayment with the Public Utilities Commission and the Consumers’ Counsel. The reports would need to include detailed information about service disconnections, the notices issued, and other relevant data. This would promote transparency and help ensure that utility companies comply with the law.
Senate Bill 150 is promising for Cuyahoga County’s low-income families, where the cold weather typically exacerbates the challenges of maintaining essential utility services. It ensures that low-income households, especially those with young children, seniors, or individuals with disabilities or illnesses, would not lose access to electricity or gas throughout the winter months. Those struggling with utility bills would benefit from income-based payment plans, making it easier to manage their expenses and reduce the risk of disconnection.
By protecting vulnerable households from utility service disconnections in the winter, the legislation strives to create a more equitable and secure environment for those in need.
“In the midst of winter’s challenges, Senate Bill 150 is emerging as a critical measure for low-income households facing difficulties in meeting their utility expenses, particularly during the colder months,” Paul Billups, Step Forward’s Director of HEAP, said. “It underscores the importance of pragmatic policies aimed at ensuring the financial stability and wellbeing of economically disadvantaged families.”
In the meantime, Step Forward is preparing to open its Winter Crisis Program on November 1, 2023. The Winter Crisis Program is available for income-eligible Greater Clevelanders who are threatened with disconnection, have been disconnected, or have less than a 25-percent supply of bulk fuel in their tank. It is a one-time benefit to be used in emergency situations when they are faced with disconnection. Customers must make an appointment to receive service.
Appointments are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. through 4 p.m. Individuals can make an appointment by calling 211 or they can schedule online.
To learn more and apply for Step Forward’s Home Energy Assistance Program, click here.