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Concerns Over Rate Increase - Part 4

Published: Jan. 28, 2022 at 10:10 AM EST
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PORTAGE LAKE, Maine (WAGM) -

Many when faced with times of financial hardship turn to assistance programs to help lighten the load, but what happens when the funding isn’t there. In our continuing series on concerns over the recent rate increase for electricity, Brian Bouchard takes a look at the programs in place to help.

“In Aroostook County, what’s here, old people! We’re on a fixed income, and I’m telling you it started out the first of year to be like that right, and now we’ve stretched it so it’s like that and it’s about to break”

Judy Moreau of Portage Lake is one of many Aroostook County residents living on a fixed income that is being hit hard with an 84% rate increase for electricity. In an effort to try and provide viewers with information on any assistance programs that may be available to them, WAGM reached out to the Aroostook County Action Program, to learn about LIAP or the Low Income Assistance Program. ACAP informed us that the benefit of the program was recently reduced. An example given was that if someone had normally received a benefit of $30 dollars off their electricity bill, they would now only receive 3 dollars and 11 cents. When asked why the benefit was reduced, ACAP stated they weren’t sure of the reason, so we asked the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

“We certainly are very, very sensitive to how this increase is impacting customers. I do know we are looking at the LAIP program and are proposing a fairly significant increase to the funding in that program. I know there are opportunities out there, and I would suggest that, give us a call and let us see if we can be helpful.” - Harry Lanphear – Administrative Director, MPUC

Following that phone call, Lanphear provided WAGM with a recent internal PUC Rulemaking Docket, proposing changes to the LIAP Program with input from AARP, suggesting that the program expand it’s eligibility requirements to recipients of Department of Health and Human Services benefits. According to that paper work, if the program is expanded, the PUC is concerned that the 7.8 million that is currently allocated for the program, would lead to significant benefit reductions. The PUC has proposed a funding increase of 4 million dollars for the program in an attempt to keep the benefit as useful to the public as possible. The docket is dated as of January 11th, and according to Lanphear the PUC is still seeking comment on the proposal.

Andrew Landry, Deputy Public Advocate states that there are a number of programs that can provide assistance to Mainer’s under specific circumstances.

“One of the things is called the Emergency Rental Assistance Program. That money is administered by ACAP, that money is available not only to help you if you are behind on your rent, but it is also available to help you if you are behind on your utility bills.”

This program benefits those who are renting property, however, according to the Maine Housing Authority, who has an extensive FAQ on this program, Homeowners do not quality for any assistance under this program. There is also an Arrearage Management Program, which deals with debt forgiveness for past due electricity bills. While Maine residents will not have to worry about winter disconnection of utilities due to PUC rules against it, a rate increase, and a benefit reduction could spell disaster for those on a fixed income.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission, The Office of the Public Advocate, ACAP and Versant have all stated that anyone having difficulty paying their bill can contact them and they will see how they can help.

Brian Bouchard, NewsSource8

Contacts:

Maine Public Utilities Commission Consumer Assistance Division: 1-800-452-4699

Maine Office of the Public Advocate: (207)-624-3687

Aroostook County Action Program: (207)-764-3721

Versant Power: 1-855-363-7211

Sources:

https://mainehousing.org/programs-services/rental/rentaldetail/covid-19-rental-relief-program

https://www.versantpower.com/residential/programs-and-services/arrearage-management-program/

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