Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Why is state low-income assistance fee on energy bills?

Though it has been a part of bills for energy utility customers in Wisconsin for nearly a dozen years, the low-income assistance fee still comes up as a question from customers.

The fee, a result of Wisconsin Act 9, began in October 2000 as a line item called Public Benefits Fee. In 2008, it was renamed State Low-Income Assistance Fee. The law transferred the responsibility for administering and expanding public benefits programs from public utilities to the Department of Administration.

Our company as well as the other energy utilities, including municipal and cooperative utilities in Wisconsin, collect the fee and pass it on to the state of Wisconsin for deposit in the Utility Public Benefits Fund. The money is used to provide energy assistance to low-income households, which includes weatherization, bill payment assistance for income-qualified households and energy crisis early identification and prevention.

The Department of Administration reviews the fees once a year and makes changes based on a formula that factors in the needs of low-income households in the state and whether or not current funding levels can satisfy those needs. Any changes take effect on July 1 of that year. Currently, residential customers are charged 3 percent or a maximum of $3.15 a month, whichever is less. Maximums are higher for business customers. The fee applies to each account a customer may have.

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