Each winter season, certain utility companies are banned from shutting off peoples' natural gas or electric utilities when temperatures are below freezing and the bills haven't been paid.
"Missouri is a unique state. We not only have hot, hot humid days, but we have very severe cold winter days," said Gay Fred, a consumer services unit manager with the Missouri Public Service Commission. "We have to protect customers both hot and cold. It's key for us to make sure our elderly, our disabled and our low income customers are definitely protected during the winter months."
The Public Service Commission adopted the cold weather rule in 1977. The provisions apply to all investor-owned utility companies such as Ameren, Empire Electric and Kansas City Power and Light, which are regulated by PSC.
Under the Cold Weather Rule, utility companies are not allowed to disconnect services when the temperature falls below 32 degrees during a 24-hour period.
The rule also allows flexible payments options for residents who may be behind on their payments.
Although Columbia Water and Light is not regulated by the PSC, they city has an ordinance very similar to the Cold Weather Rule.
The ordinance states: "Services to residences will not be disconnected when the temperature is thirty-two (32) degrees Fahrenheit or less or when the temperature exceeds ninety (90) degrees Fahrenheit; effort will be made to determine the health status of the person(s) residing on the premises before proceeding with disconnection."
"Whether it's extremely cold or extremely hot, most of us live in buildings that were built for either heating or air conditioning," said Connie Kacprowicz, a spokesperson for Columbia Water and Light. "So it's very important from a health standpoint that the Cold Weather Rule is in place.
Boone Electric Cooperative, which is not under PSC jurisdiction, said they follow the Cold Weather Rule to a certain extent, but are not required to follow all the provisions.
"I think most companies are willing to work with customers, especially when we're talking about health and safety issues," Fred said. "We don't want anyone to freeze to death in Missouri because of the cold weather if we can prevent it."
Fred encourages residents to call their utility company if they know they are falling behind on payments to see if they follow similar rules.
The Cold Weather Rule went into effect Nov. 1 and lasts until Mar. 31, 2017.