What to Do if You Can’t Afford to Keep the Heat on This Winter

Before last winter even ended, people were starting to face problems paying their heating bills: Millions of Americans had lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic.  And as we get ready for another winter, the economic situation continues to be dire for many folks.

But there is help available.

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This article will give you some options that could help you keep your utilities on. I've looked into the government programs listed below. (A hat tip goes to Marketwatch, which recently wrote about one of the provisions.)

Is Paying Your Heating Bill a Struggle? Here’s Some Help

It’s no secret that money is tight for many Americans because of the economic situation created by COVID-19.

Let’s get into some things you can do to keep your heat on this winter.

Apply for Government Assistance

One U.S. government program designed to help utility customers with their bills is the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

The program can lead you to a nonprofit or government agency in your area that can determine if you qualify for energy bill assistance based on your income.

LIHEAP offers assistance in three basic ways, according to the program's website:

  • Home energy bills
  • Energy crises: help if your utilities have been shut off
  • Minor home repairs involving weatherization and energy

What You Need to Do

To see if you qualify for assistance, LIHEAP's website directs you to call the National Energy Assistance Referral (NEAR) project at 1-866-674-6327. You can also email NEAR at energyassistance@ncat.org.

If you call, during the prompts, you will be directed to a local agency or organization that may be able to help you.

Call Your Utility Provider

Contact your utility service provider to see if you can work out a plan before your heat gets shut off.

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, many state and local governments imposed restrictions on utility providers, forbidding them to shut off service. Those restrictions have ended in many places, but some companies have elected to continue the moratoriums.

You’d be surprised at the concessions you may be able to get once you explain your financial situation and your willingness to adhere to a payment plan or some other arrangement that works for both you and your service provider.

What You Need to Do

  • Before you contact your service provider, make sure you have any documentation you may need, including your utility bill.
  • Call earlier in the day when the lines are likely to be less busy.
  • Be polite to the customer service representative and be willing to listen.

Look for Discounts

Before you face going into debt to pay your utility bills, do your due diligence to see if you qualify for any discounts.

Your employer or your membership in a qualifying organization may make you eligible for discounts with a particular utility company. Many of them pride themselves on their civic partnerships.

Also, many municipalities offer senior citizens a break on their gas, electric and telephone bills.

What You Need to Do

  • If a municipality handles your heating needs, visit your local government's website or call their customer service center to see what they offer.
  • If the energy company handles your heating needs, look on their website to see if they have a list of civic or community partners that you may be affiliated with.
  • As always, have your documents ready. Discount programs typically require that you verify your age, residence and other identifying information.

Final Thoughts

As millions of Americans fire up their furnaces this season to prepare for the cold weather, it may be a good time to look at what you’re paying for energy.

Make sure to inspect your heater for any inefficiencies that could be costing you money. A relatively easy fix may make a big difference.

Interested in keeping more of your money in your wallet this winter? Here are some ways to lower your utility bills.

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