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Help! What Should I Do if I Can’t Afford My Utility Bills?

Jan 5 2021

This is part of our ongoing series on the basics of owning a home.

It may be a new year, but we’re still navigating our way through COVID-19. And if things weren’t tough enough, much of the country is now scrambling to heat their homes during the cold winter weather. 

Heat, along with electricity and internet, is an essential utility, but that doesn’t make it easy to pay for, especially with so many households experiencing financial hardship due to the pandemic.  

If you’re struggling to afford your bills this winter, here are some resources you can turn to for help:   

Utility payment moratoriums: Many utility companies place a seasonal moratorium on disconnecting service for customers that are have trouble paying their bills during periods of extreme cold and heat. Many have expanded their moratoriums to prevent service interruptions for customers experiencing hardship related to COVID-19. Find out more about winter weather and COVID moratoriums.

Utility company assistance: Most gas and electricity companies offer some type of assistance, but they won’t know you need help unless you say so. In addition to moratoriums on disconnections, some provide utility bill payment plans and other programs. (While you’re at it, ask about rebates and discounts on energy saving smart thermostats and LED bulbs.)

Weatherizing programs: Each state has funds from the federal government’s Weatherization Assistance Program to help with energy saving improvements to your home. Help is available based on your income, with priority given to folks over the age of 60, people with disabilities, and families with children.

LIHEAP: The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), established by the federal government program, provides help with utility bills and home weatherization. The current income limit is $39,300 for a household of four. If you or someone in your household receives certain federal assistance benefits, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you may be automatically eligible.

Lifeline: The Federal Communications Commission requires all telecommunication utility companies to offer discounted telephone and internet services to eligible customers. Lifeline customers must meet income requirements or participate in certain federal assistance programs, such as SNAP, SSI, Medicaid, or the VA Survivors Pension.

211: All 50 states have 211 systems to make it easier to reach local organizations that may be able to help with your utility bill needs. By dialing 211, you can be referred or connected to appropriate agencies and community programs.

Housing counselors: Housing counselors and advisors provide trusted, unbiased guidance for homeowners (and homebuyers). They can answer questions, connect you to other resources, and generally help you moving toward your goal of happy homeownership. 

Ask for help 

 If you are struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Remember: You’re not alone. Millions of households are dealing with similar financial pressures during COVID-19. We hope these resources will help keep you warm and connected this winter! 

For more tips to manage your home finances during COVID-19, check out these posts:

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