COVID-19 Updates: Resources for Utility Consumers

 

COVID-19 Updates: Resources for Utility Consumers

Published April 3, 2020. Updated May 19, 2:17 p.m.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting all of us. Here are resources and information related to utility service across Minnesota during this period. We are updating this page frequently with new information.

 

Translated COVID-19 Updates

 

Utility bills and disconnection

Unlike many other states, Minnesota has not instituted a moratorium on utility disconnections. CUB is encouraging the state to do so. In the meantime, the state has requested utilities to act voluntarily, and most are doing so. However, policies vary from utility to utility. 

In the majority of areas, you must contact your utility and arrange a payment plan to ensure that your utilities will not be disconnected. Even during the winter Cold Weather Rule period, utilities may be shut off due to non-payment if you do not make and honor a payment plan.

Here are the declared policies for each utility.

If you are behind on your bills, worried about your service being disconnected, or have already had your service disconnected, CUB recommends:

  • Call your utility and ask to arrange a payment plan that works given your personal financial circumstances. Ask them to ensure your service remains on and to waive late fees during the federal or state declared COVID-19 emergency.

    If your financial circumstances change and you are no longer able to follow your payment arrangement, contact your utility again and ask to restructure the arrangement based on your new situation.

  • If you have been financially affected by the COVID-19 emergency, make sure to tell them. Some utilities are making special arrangements for people who have been affected that may not be available to people undergoing financial hardships for other reasons.
  • If you require electricity service for medically necessary equipment, the utility must keep your service on or reconnect service if it has been shut off. You will need to provide certification from a medical provider. If you have an overdue balance, you can be required to make a payment plan. Contact your utility so they are aware of your medical need, and they will tell you what you must provide.
  • We strongly recommend that you make at least partial payments on your bills as you are able. Even if your service will not be disconnected during this period, your bills will continue to accumulate. Any payments you can make now will reduce the amount you owe when the emergency order is eventually lifted and utilities begin disconnection proceedings again.

CUB will advocate for you if you run into difficulties: info@cubminnesota.org or 651-300-4701. We’ll help you keep your service on, and knowing which utilities are disconnecting people helps us advocate for everyone.

Utilities may be sending disconnection notices even though they’re not conducting shutoffs. Some utilities have also said they may shut off customers who do not contact them. If you received a disconnection notice, call your utility immediately to arrange a payment plan.

 

Resources for paying utility bills

 

Energy Assistance

The Energy Assistance Program (also called LIHEAP) provides financial help to income-qualified households for covering natural gas and electric bills. Energy Assistance is available each heating season to households at or below 50 percent of the state median income.

Minnesota will be receiving additional energy assistance funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Applicants only need to show one month’s proof of qualifying income to determine eligibility (not the usual three months) until September 30. Applications are being accepted through July 1 this year – but funding is still on a first-come, first-served basis. The state has relaxed other requirements, too.

If you think you might be eligible, contact your local Energy Assistance provider.

Find your Energy Assistance provider by county or tribal government.

 

 

Electricity and gas affordability programs

Income-qualified households in many areas can receive discounts on their electric or gas service through their utility. Xcel Energy has PowerOn and Gas Affordability programs, CenterPoint Energy has a Gas Affordability Program, Minnesota Power has a program called CARE, and other utilities run their own programs. Each utility’s program is different, so contact your utility to find out if you qualify, what the program offers, and how to apply.

 

Personalized recommendations to reduce your bill

CUB offers individual utility bill consultations to anyone in Minnesota free of charge. During this time, we are providing consultations via telephone or video call.

A phone consultation takes about 30 minutes and saves the average household $150 in the first year. Households with higher energy bills can save much more.

Contact us: info@cubminnesota.org or 651-300-470.

 

Energy conservation tips

Check out CUB’s energy efficiency tips for advice for this spring and year-round.

 

Beware of scams

Utilities have reported an uptick in scammers taking advantage of the COVID-19 emergency. A caller may demand immediate payment to prevent your service from being disconnected.

  • Never give out your banking information by email or phone. Utility companies won’t demand payment by phone. 
  • Utilities won’t force you to pay immediately as your only option.
  • Utilities won’t demand payment by gift card, cash reload card, wiring money, or cryptocurrency.
  • If you receive any suspicious calls, hang up and call your utility back to ask if it was them.

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