Missouri Agency Looks to Lower Rates for Low-Income Residents
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Missouri Agency Looks to Lower Rates for Low-Income Residents

Date: November 8, 2012
By: Taylor Beck
State Capitol Bureau

Intro: 
The Missouri agency controlling utility rates is trying to cut rates for low-income residents.
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Wrap: 

Wrap: The Missouri Public Service Commission determines utility rates in Missouri, and is looking to cut rates for low-income residents.

If the commission decides to do so, people like Kathleen Chitwood could see a change in their monthly bills.

Actuality:  CHITWOO4.WAV
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Description: "If they wanna lower it? Yes, it would benefit me."

Chitwood is an alternate board member for the Jefferson Franklin Community Action Corporation representing low-income residents like herself in Missouri.

She says she has seen the bad economy put her and many others she works with in a bind to pay for necessities like groceries and utilities.

Actuality:  CHITWOO2.WAV
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Description: "Well there's so many people out there there's elderly out there, there's ya know single moms out there that don't have a job or were laid off and they're struggling ya know they're really trying."

She says her big concern is making sure those who really need the lower rate are receiving it.

Currently all utility customers pay a different price depending on whether they are a home or business owner.

The Public Service Commission is working to create another residential rate class with a lower utility rate specifically for low-income residents.

Public hearings throughout the state prompted the commission's attempt to determine if creating a separate rate class for low-income residents is possible. 

But chairman of the House Committee on Utilities Republican Representative Darrel Pollock says he's not in favor of a new class.
 

Actuality:  POLLOCK3.WAV
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Description: "I honestly don't see this as something that we should be involved in."

Pollock says the commission should be looking at ways to lower energy costs for all taxpayers as opposed to creating another government program.

Missouri Public Service Commissioner Robert Kenney says while the goal is to find a fair way to help those in need, he still cites concerns.

Actuality:  KENNEY1.WAV
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Description: “In the process of helping one group of people you don’t want to shift the burden to another group of people too greatly.”

Kenney acknowledges a possibility a new class could cause others' rates to increase, but

 

Actuality:  KENNEY4.WAV
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Description: "The whole idea of rate design for utilities is so complex anyway that it’s really an oversimplification to say well, if we set up a low income class then everyone is paying more."

He adds he is hopeful a new class could curb some expenses consumers already pay.

Typically when low-income residents don't pay their bills utility companies then write it off as a bad debt expense.

So, this expense is passed on to other customers' bills. 

Kenney says he hopes by creating a separate class, those in the low-income class will be more likely to pay bills because they can afford it.

Pollock and other opponents of the new class say there are already enough programs in place helping with utility bills.
 
Government programs like LIHEAP provide financial assistance paying heating bills October through March based on income, family size and available resources.

And many utility companies like Ameren offer programs to help their low-income customers, and charities like Heat Up St. Louis do the same.

But Kenney says there's a big difference between these government programs and what the commission is looking to do. 

Actuality:  KENNEY2.WAV
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Description: “The main distinction is that those programs will help the consumer after they’ve already run up a large bill. what we’re looking into is ways in which to prevent them from getting into trouble in the first place."

The Public Service Commission says the next step after evaluating the docket is to hold a face-to-face workshop of all the stakeholders.

Reporting from the state Capitol, I'm Taylor Beck.


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