Spire expands utility assistance programs this winter after raising rates
St. Louis Spire customers are about to see a rise in prices for heating and natural gas this winter now that the Missouri Public Service Commission has approved a rate increase. The bill for St. Louis customers will go up an average of 3.4%, or $3.06 a month. Spire officials say the money will go toward investing in infrastructure and paying employees.
Beginning this month, Spire will help customers with past due bills by spreading payments out over 12 months. The company also plans to help customers who have had recent medical emergencies by suspending disconnections for up to 30 days starting in March.
“The cost of everything has gone up, and the cost of natural gas has also gone up,” said Christopher Gagliano, Spire’s vice president of customer experience. “We wanted to get ahead of that and offer these programs so if a customer is struggling to pay their winter heating bills we'll be there to help them.”
Only customers who participated in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and earned no more than 200% of the federal poverty level qualified for energy assistance last year. The company is now making assistance available to customers who make under $40,000 a year in a single-person household.
Renters who participated in programs that spread their utility payments over 12 months still find it difficult to keep up with on-time payments, said Shuron Jones, bill of rights organizer for the housing crisis organization Homes for All STL.
“If you look at Spire’s website, you will see that they offer some kind of assistance,” Jones said. “But because of the overall increase in rent and utilities, renters would rather see direct payout programs to offset inflation.”
Jones said up to half of Spire’s customers in St. Louis will need energy assistance this winter based on the number of customers who make less than 30% of the median family income in the St. Louis area, which was $97,200 this year.
“We think these expansions to utility assistance are a good thing,” said Jones. “But we know these companies can offer more direct assistance like no disconnections whatsoever.”