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Cold Weather Rule: What to Do When the Heat Has Been Turned Off

That's why they call it climate change. Throughout the Midwest, East and Southeast, Americans have been faced with an icy blast from Arctic air since last weekend, according to meteorologists. The Southeast, not accustomed to the extreme cold has been hit hardest, shivering in temps that have plunged 10 to 35 degrees below normal for the last two weeks.

Since this cold snap coincides with the to-be-hoped tail end of the great recession, many are still struggling to pay their most basic bills, including gas and electricity. What happens if, during the coldest weather on record, you are faced with the power company threatening to cut off your heat because the bill has not been paid?

In three states, there is a provision called the "Cold Weather Rule." In Minnesota, Missouri, and Kansas, the power company cannot turn off the heat to a home under certain circumstances. For instance, in Minnesota, homeowners are protected from heat shut off from October 15-April 15 each year. In Missouri, the heat can not be turned off if the temperature is forecasted to drop below 32 degrees. In 2009, the Kansas Cold Weather Rule when into effect for the period of November 1-March 31. There are also some regulations in New York City that may prohibit shut off of heating during the cold weather months.

Unfortunately, it is the southern states who are suffering the most from the unexpected cold and do not have state-wide provisions like those listed above. Some southern governments and agencies are being proactive under the stress of weather emergencies. CNN reports that in Memphis, homeowners who had their heat discontinued due to failure to pay had it restored by the city.

If paying the utility bill has become difficult and you are concerned about turn off due to non payment, there are steps you can take. Most utilities suggest that you contact the company first, before your heat, light and/or gas has been shut off. It is easier to keep these utilities on, than to reestablish them, once they have been shut off. According to Turn (a consumer advocate group), power companies may not shut of your utilities without notice and, "[i]f you cannot pay your entire bill in but you are able to make partial payments, the utility must extend your payments." Companies will also take the medical condition of household members into consideration before initiating a shut off.

As with nearly everything else, early action will help address the problem and keep it from getting worse. It might even keep the light in your life a bit longer this winter.

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