Utilities Help Households Still Struggling as the Pandemic Wears On
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- Oct 20, 2020 9:34 pm GMTOct 20, 2020 9:15 pm GMT
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As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, people continue to suffer in ways beyond becoming infected with the virus, or the illness or death of a loved one. Whether due to job loss, a reduction in hours, the need to stay at home with kids engaged in remote learning, or a combination of these factors, millions of Americans have dropped into poverty since May, which is when funding from the CARES Act stopped, according to the New York Times.
Since the pandemic started, utilities have been promoting existing programs and starting new ones to help these households keep their power on. The following examples show how they are continuing this assistance as the weather grows colder and the need expands.
A StarTribune article states, “Minnesota’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, recently proposed $17.5 million in bill credits for its most indebted customers.” About 11,600 Xcel residential customers would be eligible for the program. The credit would range from $750 to $3,000, depending on customer balances, which are, on average, between $1,000 and $4,000, according to the article, which adds, “The program’s $17.5 million price tag would be paid for by all Xcel ratepayers over two years, adding 51 cents per month to the average residential customers’ electricity bill.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reports that Duke Energy is “helping…customers affected by the pandemic to pay their utility bills by providing $300,000 in energy-assistance funds.” Duke is also offering information about managing energy use during a time when residential customers are paying more for their electric bills as they spend more time at home. A Manage Your Energy Use page on the utility’s website is a starting point for learning more about home energy savings, signing up for high bill and usage alerts, and enrolling in energy-saving programs.
According to the DHHS, Nicor Gas is offering utility bill payment assistance through its COVID-19 Bill Payment Assistance Program. Nicor Gas states that $4.5 million in assistance remains for qualified customers: “Income eligible residential customers with account balances of up to $300 who earn up to 300% of the federal poverty guidelines…are eligible to automatically receive a one-time grant, while funding is available.” Before participating, customers must first apply and be approved for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) assistance or a Nicor Gas Sharing Program grant.
Given that the pandemic isn’t going to end any time soon and will likely even worsen through the winter, there’s a good chance the number of those experiencing poverty will continue or increase as well. Electric utility customers with low incomes are also eligible for federal assistance through the LIHEAP and through funds for heating assistance allocated through the CARES Act.
Is your utility offering special assistance for those who continue to struggle during the pandemic? Please share in the comments.