Many Missourians heading into this winter can’t shake the cold of last winter and the huge debts it left behind. That has led the Public Service Commission to consider an emergency change to its Cold Weather Rule that went into effect November first. The rule is designed to keep the heat on during the coldest days even if customers can’t pay their bills. The problem this year is that higher natural gas prices and colder weather last year drove heating bills dramatically higher than normal. During a public hearing before the PSC in Jefferson City, Jacqueline Hutchinson with the Human Development Corporation in St. Louis stated some of her clients have debts leftover from last winter ranging from a few hundred dollars to more than $3,000. PSC staff has a tentative proposal to turn the heat back on for customers who pay a quarter of their debt and agree to a repayment schedule stretching out as long as 18 months. Utilities haven’t signed off. Utility executives say they cannot afford to write off the millions in debt that accumulated from last year. They have offered their own proposal for the PSC to consider.
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