Trouble Paying Your Bill? Give Us a Call

Eastern NY Consumer Advocate Barbara Michalski

Barbara Michalski has been with National Grid in upstate New York for more than 30 years. For much of that time she has been a Consumer Advocate, helping those customers who are having trouble with their bills, make ends meet. Recently, The Schenectady Daily Gazette wrote an article about Barbara and an upcoming Consumer Expo in February of 2017.

Regardless of the February event, the article includes some excellent information about how National Grid assists those customers in need and works with regional organizations across upstate New York. It’s worth a read – here.

Help available on conserving energy, lowering bill

By Jeff Wilkin, Schenectady Daily Gazette

January 29, 2017

Low funds inside a bank account should not mean low temperatures inside a house. But some Capital Region residents believe they must choose between food and energy during the winter.

Barbara Michalski believes there’s another choice — a talk with a consumer advocate.

“We work with mainly our low income, elderly and disabled customers who are having trouble with making payments,” said Michalski, part of a three-person National Grid team that helps people turn up their heat. “We work quite a bit with the agencies in the communities, we’re able to make referrals to them.”

“They help educate customers on ways they can conserve energy and lower their bill, manage their bill through things like budget billing programs or connecting them with community agencies that provide bill assistance for essential services like gas and electric,” said Patrick Stella, National Grid’s communications manager in the Capital Region.

Michalski, who has worked for National Grid for the past 34 years and has been an advocate for the past 20, said the first step is finding the people — or having people find the advocates.

“I get referrals from agencies or a field rep on customers who need assistance,” she said. “We also get customers who call into our phone center.”

The problem always begins with finances.

“They’re having trouble keeping their heads above water,” Michalski said. “Some of them have medical issues that have really strapped the household or someone has become unemployed. There are different extenuating circumstances.”

One step is applying for a HEAP grant from the federal Home Energy Assistance Program. “If somebody is eligible for that program, which is income-based, we refer them to that first so they can get the grant and that helps them out,” Michalski said. “It’s a good amount. There’s also an emergency benefit they may be eligible for, but they would have to have a disconnect notice or be out of fuel.”

Stella said National Grid advocates last year helped more than 21,000 customers across upstate New York who were in financial trouble. The power company has held 17 consumer expos in upstate during the past year to help people with their energy bills.

Michalski, who said she talks to about 80 people each week, wants low-income people to know help is available.

“I don’t think everyone is aware of it,” she said. “I get a lot of referrals that are word-of-mouth. I’ll help a customer who mentions me to a friend and they’ll call me. The agencies know about us, I don’t know if the public is as aware.”

Agencies are a big part of the process. The advocates will work with SCAP, with county social service departments, Catholic Charities and other groups.

“It’s almost like a network for people having trouble paying their bills or they’re having trouble with food, it could be child care, it could be anything,” Stella said. “The issue is finding that person who needs the help once one of the agencies or Barb or somebody gets in that home. They talk to each other and get the help for that person.

“Sometimes it involves us, sometimes it involves two or three different agencies,” Stella added. “It’s kind of a group effort and we’re part of it.”

Matt Stankus, communications and public relations manager for SCAP, said several dozen people attended the agency’s December National Grid advocates session.

“It’s important to partner with National Grid to help people in the community,” Stankus said. “Obviously, they play a very strong role in helping with the HEAP applications, so it’s nice for us to be able to work together to get the applications completed so customers know the process involved and we have both parties there able to help.”

Power bill interventions can also be educational.

Michalski said people with high energy bills can also be coached to lower their power usage, and lower their bills. She tells them to turn down the heat when they leave the house for extended periods of time. Televisions don’t have to run all day — especially when nobody’s watching — and maybe people don’t really need that extra refrigerator in the basement.

People concerned about their ability to pay their power bills can call National Grid at 1-800-642-4272

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *