A reminder about consumer protections, heating assistance

Published 8:11 am Thursday, October 11, 2018

Winter is approaching and the Minnesota Department of Commerce and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission want Minnesotans to know about two important options if their home heating costs are unaffordable.

The Energy Assistance Program helps eligible Minnesota homeowners and renters pay for home heating costs. The Cold Weather Rule protects residential utility customers from having their heat shut off during the winter months.

Energy Assistance Program

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Minnesota’s Energy Assistance Program helps homeowners and renters earning at or below 50 percent of the state’s median income ($49,698 for a family of four) pay their heating bills. The average annual payment per household last year was about $545. Households with seniors, people with disabilities, veterans, and children are especially encouraged to apply.

Minnesotans who use gas, electric or delivered fuels to heat their homes are eligible for the Energy Assistance Program.

Applications were recently sent to households that qualified for energy assistance last year. Others who may qualify are encouraged to apply by contacting the local service provider in their county by calling 800-657-3710. Households can find their local Energy Assistance Program service provider, listed by county, at the Commerce Department’s Energy Assistance Program webpage.

The Minnesota Commerce Department administers the Energy Assistance Program in partnership with 29 local service providers throughout the state. It is federally funded through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Commerce Department also administers the Weatherization Assistance Program, which provides energy efficiency improvements to reduce energy costs for households that meet income eligibility guidelines. Both homeowners and renters may apply for weatherization assistance.

Other forms of assistance may be available through county social service programs, community-based organizations, and nonprofit agencies.

Minnesota Cold Weather Rule

Minnesota law protects people from having their heat turned off for failure to pay their bill.   This is called the Cold Weather Rule and it is in effect from Oct. 15 through April 15.  All electric and natural gas companies are required to offer this protection.

Under the Cold Weather Rule, customers who have a combined household income at or below 50 percent of the state median income ($49,698 for a family of four) are not required to pay more than 10 percent of their household income toward current and past heating bills. Others are also eligible to arrange a Cold Weather Rule payment plan.

To prevent heating disconnection under the Cold Weather Rule, customers must first contact their utility to establish and maintain a monthly payment plan. Minnesotans who need to re-connect their service for the winter should contact their utility now to take advantage of the payment options.

The Cold Weather Rule does not apply to delivered fuels such as fuel oil, propane or wood. However, Minnesotans who use these fuels are encouraged to contact the companies serving them to discuss payment options if they are concerned about their ability to pay this winter. For example, a state law requires that propane distributors offer all customers a budget plan.

The Cold Weather Rule is administered by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). More information on the rule is available at the PUC website or by calling 651-296-0406 or 800-657-3782.