The Missouri agency controlling utility rates is trying to cut rates for low-income residents.
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.
|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.
|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.
|Description: "I honestly don't see this as something that we should be involved in."|
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.
|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
|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.
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.
|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.