Rate increase in Missouri could hurt assistance programs

Temperatures are dropping while electric bills will be rising. A three percent increase in residential Ameren Missouri electric bills should cost customers an average of $10 per month.

The rate hike will mean a tighter budget for Hannibal families, and for North East Community Action Corporation (NECAC) energy assistance programs.

"Right now we have about half of what we received last year in crisis funds in ECIP," Emergency Programs Coordinator Janice Fritz said,"That's because of cutbacks. When we do run out of funds, of course we'll be asking the state if there's any additional funds we can use for out clients."

Running short on cash in the colder months is typical, and usually not a problem. With this year's cutbacks, that could change.

"We will be asking the state for additional funds, I don't know if they'll have it to allocate or not," Fritz said.

The uncertainty comes at a bad time for NECAC. This year the organization has continued to see an increase in new clients seeking help with their bills. Many come in needing help right away from a combination of unpaid summer bills and additional heating costs.

"They apply for EA, which is the one time energy assistance grant for heating from the state. If they qualify for that, that payment goes to their primary heat source. Then if they're still in threat we can step in with our emergency crisis or intervention funds, or ECIP, which we can help them up to $800 as long as their funding holds out."

Fritz says they have used about three quarters of the state money they received this year already.

The electric rate hike will go into affect in 2013.