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Power to Children and the Poor: Utility (power, light, and water) Service


Another type of law library question that we, and public libraries, start hearing as the weather gets colder:

Where do I find the law that that says power companies cannot turn power off if you are very poor, have children, or are elderly?

Quick answer, if the utility has been or soon will be turned off:

1) Contact the customer service representative at your local power company (phone numbers on your monthly bill).

2) Contact a city or county social service agency.

3) Contact your state or federal elected representatives, who, after all, are the people who have written the laws you are asking about.

4) Contact the Community Alliance of Tenants or other local non-profit organization that advocates for the interests of the residents in your community.

5) Ask at your public library if they can help you find another phone number, government office, community agency, or person to help you. Public libraries often have terrific directories of community service organizations.

6) In many states, some low-income energy programs are administered through local Community Action Agencies (use the “Find a Community Action Agency” link from the left-hand menu).

If, however, you are interested in doing some legal research on this subject:

1) You will need to look at federal, state or sometimes local laws, which include statutes, regulations and ordinances. Federal statutes can be found in the “United States Code” (USC), Federal regulations can be found in the “Code of Federal Regulations” (CFR).

2 ) Oregon state laws include the Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) (and the 2008 Special Session Laws), the Oregon Administrative Rules (OAR), and case law. You will need the resources of a law library to research case law. In Oregon, use the Oregon Council of County Law Libraries (OCCLL) directory to find the county law library nearest you.

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3 responses to “Power to Children and the Poor: Utility (power, light, and water) Service”

  1. Do you know for sure that these laws exist?

  2. Yes, but you need to know how and where to look, which is why I recommend first going through advocacy groups that often know the locality’s “shut-off” rules.

    Sometimes these rules are issued by state utility boards or by municipal utility boards (if it’s a municipal utility). These rules can regulate under what conditions and on what terms the utilities can be shut off (non-payment, # days late, children in household, etc.) or to protect tenants from unlawful utility shut-offs.

    Some cities (or other local entities) also create benefit programs to help people pay their utility bills.


  3. One other point I neglected to make is that not everyone in need of help will be able to find it. As is true with everything else in life, whether it be healthcare, housing, education, legal assistance, etc., not everyone will find a “safety net.”

    It is quite possible there is no law that guarantees you won’t be hungry, won’t be without health care, won’t be very cold in the freezing weather, won’t live in safe housing, etc.

    And you may need to become quite active in enforcing the laws that do exist or in locating those services that are available.

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