February 21, 2022
Bebe Brandt turned off the heat, piled on blankets and limited stove use to one day a week this winter in hopes of containing her ballooning heating bill.
Still, it wasn’t enough. Brandt, a single mom of two in Minneapolis, said her past-due balance swelled to $400.
Brandt’s shifts at a mailing company keep getting cut as the pandemic shipping craze slows, so her hopes for paying it off are pinned on her recent application for state energy assistance — otherwise, she has no idea where she’ll get the money.
“I’m struggling, to be honest. It’s got me depressed,” Brandt said. “I’m praying, praying, praying, because every day that bill is on my mind.”
Brandt isn’t alone. Skyrocketing natural gas prices and brutally cold temperatures have sent Minnesotans’ utility bills soaring, making it difficult for many to keep up — especially those already facing financial stress due to the pandemic. More than 246,000 Minnesotans were behind on their CenterPoint Energy and Xcel Energy bills last month, or roughly 11% of the companies’ customers.
Minnesotans with unpaid bills won’t see their service interrupted for now, since the state’s “cold weather rule” prohibits utility companies from shutting off residents’ electricity or gas during the most frigid months of the year. But advocates worry about what will happen after April 30, when the rule is no longer in effect.
“Even the lowest-income people (who qualify for the most assistance) are going to be facing shutoff, potentially, in the next couple of months,” said Annie Levenson-Falk, director of the nonprofit Citizens Utility Board.
Levenson-Falk said advocates have been working to raise awareness of Minnesota’s energy assistance program, which helps homeowners and renters making up to 60% of the statewide median household income pay for current and past-due utility bills.
The annual income limit is $67,765 for a four-person household. Eligible Minnesotans can get up to $1,600 for current energy bills and $1,200 for past-due bills.
Here’s more on why natural gas is so expensive and how it’s affecting Minnesotans, in three charts.
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