Monday, January 25, 2021 / by Vanessa Saunders
It’s going to be cold today - below freezing tonight. And it’s going to be a long New York winter in the coming months. If you lost your income because of the Covid-19 shutdown and are having trouble finding ways to pay your heat and electricity bills, here are a few things you can do to keep the heat on.
Get a grant from LIHEAP
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helps families living on low incomes pay their heating bills in the form of a cash grant. Households in immediate danger of being without heat can also qualify for crisis grants. The cash grant is a one-time payment sent directly to the utility company/fuel provider to be credited on your bill. These grants range from $200 to $1,000 based on household size, income, and fuel type. Remember: This is a grant and does not have to be repaid.
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 HERE.
Work with your utility company.
Contact your utility service provider to see if you can work out a plan before your heat gets shut off. When this whole pandemic thing started back in March, many state and local governments passed 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, or to offer programs and payment plans for anyone having trouble paying their utility bills.
For example, Orange and Rockland Utilities states on its website: “If you’re having financial problems that make it difficult for you to pay your O&R bill, we’ll work with you to come up with a payment agreement. In making the agreement, we’ll consider your financial circumstances and any income limitations you may have.”
What 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.
Discounts to lower your utility bills.
Before you go into debt to pay your utility bills, see if you qualify for any discounts. For example, 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 to do.
Look on your utility provider’s 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.
Other help for people in need.
Most counties in New York have set up coalitions with organizations that collaboratively plan, coordinate and implement disaster/emergency preparedness and response, as well as identify and respond to the unmet needs of people impacted by disasters or other emergencies. For example, The United Way of Rockland County in collaboration with the County of Rockland coordinates the RCCOAD (Rockland County Community Organizations Active in Disaster). Members of the RCCOAD are not for-profit organizations, faith communities, government agencies, businesses, and civic/community groups interested in disaster response and have resources to commit to meet the needs of people in Rockland County affected by disaster without discrimination.
Whatever your situation, you do NOT have to risk losing your heat and electric utilities due to an inability to pay. There is help available if you need it.