More Maui residents are leaving their electric bills unpaid; Some resources can help: Maui Now

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In light of global inflation and the end of COVID-19 aid, some Maui residents are having trouble paying utility bills, according to recent data.

Maui has seen an uptick in the number of customers with delinquent balances on their electric bills. About 8% of residential customers, or 6,000 people, haven’t paid in more than 30 days, according to Hawaiian Electric data in December. By comparison, 7% of residential customers in December 2021 had delinquent balances.

Some unpaid bills are up to $9,000 to $10,000, said Kasei Yamashita, director of community services for Maui Economic Opportunity Inc., and he has noticed an increase in the amounts of unpaid bills.

“People are still suffering whether we want to admit it or not,” Yamashita said earlier this week. “The programs are trying to help; there are a lot of resources, but I don’t think they are enough.”

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A recent report showed that households in Kahului spend $694 per month on utilities while households in Hawaii pay $550 per month in utilities. The national average is $328 per month, said DoxCoinZets.

The report, which looks at utility bills from a local and national perspective, said the average Kahului household pays $2,762 per month for the 10 most common household bills — 37.9% above the national average of $2,003.

Last March, HECO said electric bills in Maui County would rise by about 20% due to inflation and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

That’s why Yamashita and others are working to connect low-income residents of Maui with resources that might help.

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If people receive a disconnection notice or are already fired, the Energy Crisis Intervention Program can save qualified applicants up to $650.

Since the middle of the pandemic, MEO has seen a sharp rise in crisis program applications. Initially, the MEO could help 10 families per month under the Crisis Program, but since the need has increased, the nonprofit can approve 15 families per month.

“The crisis part has gone up dramatically,” Yamashita said. “We usually meet the maximum early in the month.”

The Energy Crisis Intervention Program is part of the Hawaii Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which provides heating and cooling to low-income families in Hawaii with one-time payments towards the utility bill. The other option is the Energy Credit, a non-crisis program with a once-a-year deadline that helps homes pay their heating and cooling bills. LIHEAP support draws in federal funds that pass through the state to select community agencies.

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Eligible residents have also been referred to a weather assistance program that replaces appliances with more energy-efficient ones, Yamashita said.

“We’re trying to look at all the different areas where we can help,” she added.

Yamashita said it is important for residents to know that resources are available not only from MEO but throughout the community.

“Our job is to navigate between them,” she said. “If we can help them, we will help them. And then we will also try to connect them to other community resources. MEO is highly connected so we have tried to maximize the resources where we can.”

HECO said that if customers have trouble paying their electric bills, reach out to the company for options.

“If customers are having trouble paying their electric bill, please reach out to us — and we’ll work with you to keep you in touch,” said Shayna Decker, HECO Communications Director. “We have extended our interest-free payment plans for up to 24 months and are working one-on-one with clients to adapt their situation.”

Also, clients can access government and nonprofit financial assistance through the HECO website.

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