COVID-19 Updates: Resources for Utility Consumers

 

COVID-19 Updates: Resources for Utility Consumers

Published April 3, 2020. Updated September 18, 2020.

 

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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.

If you have questions or run into problems, CUB can help. Contact us: 651-300-4701, info@cubminnesota.org, or Facebook message.

 

Utility bills and disconnection

Regardless of who your utility provider is, 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.

 

Rules for regulated utilities

Regulated utilities in Minnesota are prohibited from disconnecting customers or imposing penalties for nonpayment during the COVID emergency by order of the Public Utilities Commission. This covers CenterPoint Energy, Dakota Electric Association, Great Plains Natural Gas, Greater Minnesota Gas, Minnesota Energy Resources, Minnesota Power, Otter Tail Power, and Xcel Energy.

During the COVID-19 state of emergency and for at least 60 days afterward, these utilities:

  • Are prohibited from disconnecting customers for nonpayment.
  • Are prohibiting from charging reconnection fees, service deposits, late fees, interest, or penalties.
  • Are prohibited from negative reporting to credit agencies.
 

Rules for unregulated cooperative and municipal utilities

Unregulated cooperative and municipal utilities are not subject to this order, but most are voluntarily extending extra protections to customers. However, cooperative and municipal customers should not assume service will not be shut off. In many areas, you must contact your utility and arrange a payment plan to ensure that your utilities will not be disconnected.

 

Resources for paying utility bills

 

COVID-19 Housing Assistance

The COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program provides housing assistance payments to help prevent eviction, prevent homelessness, and maintain housing stability for eligible renters and homeowners. These can be applied to past-due utility bills for Minnesotans who qualify. Assistance is available as long as funding lasts. You can find out more here. To apply, call 211, text “MNRENT” or “MNHOME” to 898-211, or go to https://www.housinghelpmn.org/.

 

Energy Assistance

Energy Assistance is not available after July 1. It will be available again in late 2020. If you think you may be eligible, contact your local provider.

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.

In 2020, additional energy assistance funding was available from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and the qualifications for applicants were relaxed.

Energy Assistance is typically available October 1-May 31, though the program end date was extended to July 1 in 2020. Assistance is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

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 651-300-4701.

 

Energy conservation tips

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

 

Other resources

Your local county, the Salvation Army, community social service agencies, local houses of worship, or campus student services (if you or someone in your household is a college student) may offer additional help to pay utility bills.

 

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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