Nonprofit sees increase in calls for assistance keeping homes cool during pandemic

MADISON, Wis. – As the heat wave continues, an area nonprofit is encouraging anyone who needs assistance keeping their house cool to contact them.

Energy Services Inc., which runs the Keep Wisconsin Warm/Cool Fund, helps residents facing energy emergencies. Executive Director Tim Bruer said calls to the organization are up more than 40 percent compared to this time last year.

“Our organization is looking at somewhere between 1,000 plus calls a day from people who never applied or reached out for assistance — people who have little or no ability to purchase a room air conditioner,” Bruer said, adding that with bills piling up during the pandemic, “a basic survival necessity becomes an un-affordable luxury.”

The pandemic also makes things difficult for those who may usually take refuge in public spaces like shopping malls, who may no longer feel safe doing so, according to Bruer.

While Wisconsin currently has a moratorium on disconnecting residents’ services because of COVID-19, that goes away on July 25 due to a Public Service Commission decision last month.

“As we speak, utilities are preparing to focus in and will likely be disconnecting households,” Bruer said.

Energy Services Inc. is working with utility companies such as Alliant Energy Center and Madison Gas and Electric.

“With the passion of that utility and their customer service staff, we’re working together to ensure that nobody faces a life-threatening situation because of their inability to keep their power on,” Bruer said.

In a statement, a MGE spokesperson Steve Schultz said the company is “committed to working with customers who experience hardship” and encouraged those behind on their bills to contact the customer service center.

“MGE is determining next steps in light of the PSCW decision and will communicate them to our customers and the public when information becomes available,” Schultz said.

He also noted he’s aware of scammers posing as MGE threatening customers with disconnection unless a payment is made immediately.

Phone scammers may give instructions to pay with a prepaid debit card or a wire transfer. If MGE customers receive a call like this, this is not MGE,” Schultz said. “This is not how MGE does business and we are not disconnecting customers at this time.”

Bruer is encouraging everyone to turn on fans and air-conditioning, check in on family, friends and neighbors and, if need be, get connected with resources at Energy Services Inc.

“We want to encourage you to contact us as soon as possible,” Bruer said. “For the most part, we will do whatever we need to do to qualify them for much needed help.”

Wisconsin residents who would like to be connected with resources can call 1-800-506-5596 or visit this website. Those interested in donating can find more information here.