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Keep Your Heat On this Winter: The Cold Weather Rule and Energy Assistance

While winter is technically a few months away, we all know it’s closer than that, and it’s time to get prepared. Households who struggle to pay their winter energy bills may be at risk for getting their heat shut off. Important protections and programs go into effect in October to help prevent heating being shut off: The Cold Weather Rule and the Energy Assistance Program.

Let’s start with the Cold Weather Rule, which is in effect from October 15 until April 15. There is a common misperception that your heat cannot be shut off in the winter. Actually, it can. The utility needs to follow specific notification procedures before they can shut off your heating source. Part of that notification is to offer to arrange a payment plan. If you’re falling behind in your heating bills, you need to arrange a payment plan with your utility. Arranging a payment plan is vitally important and worth repeating year after year. Ideally, you do this before you get a shut-off notice. Read our previous blog to learn more.  If you need help getting a payment plan arranged with your utility, you can contact the Public Utilities Commission’s Consumer Affairs Office for assistance at 800-657-3782 or at Consumer.puc@state.mn.us. As long as you have arranged a payment plan with your utility and are up to date on your payments, the utility may not shut off your heat during the Cold Weather Rule months.

The Energy Assistance Program provides financial help to income-qualified households for covering natural gas and electric bills. Local agencies that administer the program begin taking applications at the beginning of October and process them on a first-come, first-serve basis. The deadline to submit an application for the current heating season is June 1, 2020, but don’t delay as funds may run out. The Department of Commerce provides information about income eligibility and your local provider, or call 1-800-657-3710 to find your local provider.

If you qualify for energy assistance, you may qualify for other utility programs that help reduce your energy costs, too. Inquire with your utility about programs.

Additional assistance with your energy bills may be available through the Salvation Army Heatshare Program (1-800-842-7279) and United Way 211 (dial 211).

CUB offers many practical tips to reduce your energy use and keep your bills reasonable. Contact me at 651-300-4701 ext. 2 for a free energy bill consultation over the phone.

Author: Carmen Carruthers

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