Kansas residents can apply now for Low Income Energy Assistance Program to pay high electric bills

Gov. Laura Kelly is encouraging Kansas residents to apply for funds available through the Low Income Energy Assistance Program to help pay high electricity bills caused by extremely cold temperatures.

Because of extreme cold, residents may see higher than usual utility costs.

“My administration is considering every tool at our disposal to ensure Kansans and communities are protected from price surges caused by the extreme weather,” said Gov. Kelly said in a news release. “While LIEAP assistance is available to Kansans experiencing higher than usual utility costs, we continue to communicate with our local and federal partners to address this problem.”

LIEAP is a federally-funded program that helps eligible households pay a portion of their home energy costs by providing a one-time per-year benefit. The 2021 LIEAP application period is from Monday, Jan. 4, 2021, through Wednesday, March 31, 2021. Applications must be received before 5 p.m., March 31, 2021. To find additional information about the LIEAP program and applications, visit http://www.dcf.ks.gov/services/ees/Pages/EnergyAssistance.aspx.

In addition to promoting LIEAP assistance, the following actions are currently being taken to address higher than usual utility costs for Kansans:

• The Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC) has instructed utilities under its jurisdiction (Evergy, Liberty, Southern Pioneer, Kansas Gas Service, Black Hills, Atmos, and the city of Eskridge) to defer the extraordinary costs associated with cold weather. (The BPU is not under the KCC’s jurisdiction.)
• Utility companies regulated by the KCC are now required to submit what costs they incurred because of the storm, along with a plan detailing what steps they are taking to mitigate the cost to consumers.
• KCC is working on a plan to spread extra costs out over several months or more to soften the impact on customers.
• Gov. Kelly and the KCC asked the Federal Regulatory Commission to investigate the events that led to a utility shortage and aid the state in protecting consumers from high costs.

The following additional resources are available for Kansans who may struggle to pay their utility bills:

• All KCC regulated utilities are offering payment plans to help customers spread out costs. Kansans should contact their utility provider to explore available options.
• Kansans can find a list of agencies and organizations providing assistance in their area at https://kcc.ks.gov/public-affairs-and-consumer-protection/utility-weatherization-related-assistance-programs.
• Kansans with questions can contact the KCC’s Public Affairs and Consumer Protection Office at 800-662-0027 or 785-271-3140.

BPU warns customers about scams

The Board of Public Utilities is warning customers about impostor scams.

According to a BPU spokesman, the scam tells residents their utilities will be shut off immediately if payment is not made.

A BPU spokesman stated they have heard from about a dozen BPU customers that were called, but the customers knew it was a hoax.

In the scam, a caller falsely claims to represent a local utility and uses caller ID spoofing to convince victims the call is from a real customer service number. The caller states if the payment is not made, services will be shut off in 30 minutes.

The BPU spokesman stated that BPU never asks for payment over the phone or threatens to disconnect utilities due to nonpayment. Customers who suspect they are being targeted by a scam should hang up right away and call the BPU Customer Service Department at 913-573-9190.

BPU also offered these tips for customers to protect themselves if they are unsure about a call, email or visit from a utility representative:

• Never give credit or debit card, Social Security, ATM, checking or savings account numbers to anyone who comes to your door, calls, texts, or sends an email asking for information regarding your utility bill. Verify the request is authentic by either asking to see company identification or calling the BPU Customer Service Department.

• Be suspicious if you receive an email regarding your utility bill if you have not requested online communications from BPU.

• Never provide personal information via email or click any suspicious links or attachments.

The BPU spokesman said electric customers have been targeted by scammers using a variety of such scam attempts for a number of years in several states besides Kansas, including Nebraska; Alabama; Arkansas; Connecticut; the District of Columbia; Florida; Louisiana; Maryland; Massachusetts; Mississippi; Missouri; New Jersey; New York; Oklahoma; Texas; Wisconsin; and New Mexico.

BPU announces moratorium on electric cutoffs until March 31

The Kansas City, Kansas, Board of Public Utilities today announced a moratorium on electric cutoffs until March 31.

The action followed an announcement by utility company Evergy earlier this week, and also pressure from community activists including Build Power MoKan, which held a news conference and video rally at noon Thursday.

After the activists mobilized, Evergy announced that it would put in place a moratorium on electric disconnections through May 2.

The BPU’s previous moratorium would have expired at the end of February, in a few days.

“We call on the KCK BPU to follow their lead, but that’s not enough,” said Ty Gorman, a representative of the Sierra Club in Kansas, at today’s Zoom rally.

During the video rally, members of the group called for the area utilities to turn power back on for those who have already been cut off previously; to offer more payment options with no fees; to add more people to the “medically necessary” list that would prevent disconnects for those using medical equipment; and to work with governors’ offices to increase programs for funding, weatherization and efficiency.

During the program, Louise Lynch, a Kansas City, Kansas, resident who had previously appeared at a BPU meeting to plead for a stop to the electric cutoffs, talked about her situation and customer experience with the BPU.

Her household of three family members, all of whom had jobs before COVID-19, came down with the illness and were unable to work. One is a senior citizen with medical issues who needs electric-powered medical devices, she said. However, the utility did not have his equipment on its medically necessary list, she said.

Lynch pointed out on Thursday that the recent rolling outages gave no notice to those who, like her family members, needed electricity to stay alive.

Last week, she said she received a $928 bill from BPU for two months, if not paid by March 1, would result in disconnection.

Lynch said she not only wanted a moratorium, she also wanted BPU to be accountable and give people relief. She wanted them to add her family member to the list of medically necessary customers who would not be turned off.

She said she was getting additional help from Catholic Charities, but now they have to take a video of her home in order for her to get any assistance.

“Many of us are struggling to survive,” Lynch said.

At some meals, she doesn’t eat so that her daughter, who has medical issues, can have a regular diet. And she has to decide which one of the family gets medication, which is not acceptable, she said.

“BPU and Evergy not only need to expand the moratorium, they need to give debt relief and cancel bills for people who are struggling like myself,” Lynch said.

“Shame on all of them,” she said, also mentioning political leaders and corporations. “Shame on the greed. Shame on fellow citizens who do not have enough compassion for those struggling.”

The BPU’s general manager, Bill Johnson, had mentioned at the BPU meeting last week that he was trying to determine what to do when the moratorium expired, but no action was taken at that meeting.

BPU spokesman David Mehlhaff said today the utility has been trying to encourage people to stay current with their bills during the pandemic, and most customers have been doing that. There are a number of bill payment plans available for customers, including ones that even out payments.

Mehlhaff said there are still relief funds available.

As for the request for BPU to forgive past debts and provide relief, Mehlhaff said that is not in the current announcement. He does not know if utility relief will be provided in the next federal stimulus package, which was being considered in Congress, but was not yet passed.

The BPU’s news release on Thursday stated that because of customers facing potential hardship from the coronavirus, the moratorium on disconnection for nonpayment will be extended through March 31.

The temporary moratorium includes residential and business customers, according to the news release, and utility disconnects will resume on April 1.

Any customers who have questions about their bills or customer service may call 913-573-9190 and a utility representative would be available to assist them, the BPU news release stated.

“As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to spread throughout our community, we will once extend our current moratorium on all utility disconnects,” BPU general manager Bill Johnson said in the news release. “It is important for us to continue to support our customers who are continuing to experience hardships during this time.”

Kansas residents can take advantage of the Kansas Low-Income Energy Assistance (LIEAP) program, which is accepting applications until Wednesday, March 31, according to the BPU’s news release.

To learn more about eligibility requirements or fill out a LIEAP application, visit the Kansas Department for Children and Families website or call 1-800-432-0043. LIEAP applications on the Kansas Department for Children and Families website at Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) until Wednesday, March 31.

According to the BPU, additional utility assistance funds may be available in mid-March through the Kansas Housing Resource Corporation (KHRC) and BPU will be letting customers know when these funds become available and how to apply.

If you typically pay in person, there are a number of quick, easy, and convenient ways for customers to pay their monthly utility bill remotely, according to the BPU.

These include:

  • On-line at www.BPU.com – available 24 hours a day, seven days a week using a credit card or savings/checking account. Available in English and Spanish, payments are posted the next day.
  • By Phone – dial 1-855-278-2455 (1-855-BPU-BILL), using a credit card or savings/checking account.
  • Auto-withdrawal – automatic check withdrawal allows your payment to be made from your savings or checking account on a monthly basis. Call 913-573- 9190 to enroll.
  • U.S. Mail – mail your payment to BPU at P.O. Box 219661, Kansas City, MO 64121-9661 in the return envelope provided with your monthly bill.
  • FlexPay – allows customers to monitor their electricity and water on an “as needed” basis, with services purchased on a pre-paid basis. There are no deposits and no late fees. Call 913-573-9190 to enroll in this program.
  • Self-Service Payment Kiosks and Payment Drop Box – available 24/7, just inside the BPU lobby doors located at 540 Minnesota Ave., KCK.
  • Grocery store Pay Site kiosks in the greater Kansas City area. Click here for a list of participating locations or call 1-877-876-7076.
    BPU has temporarily waived fees to use PaySite kiosks to make payments. PaySite kiosks accept cash and checks.

Residential customers who are financially impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak can set up payment arrangements by calling 913-573-9145. BPU is closely following the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) guidelines and recommendations on the steps it can take to help prevent the spread of the virus, according to the news release.

BPU will continue to closely monitor this situation and do all it can to protect its customers, employees, and the public, according to the news release.