Where to go for heating help

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Although winter is not yet officially here, with snow on the ground and temperatures dipping into the teens, Minnesotans face another season of high heating bills.

“Many people believe that you just don’t get your heat turned off in the cold winter months. That’s not true,” said Catherine Fair, director of energy assistance programs at the Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties.

Where to go

If you need to set up a payment plan and apply for heating assistance, do it as soon as possible.

If you live in Minneapolis, call 612-335-5837 or go to the Minneapolis Community Action web site. In suburban Hennepin County, call 952-930-3541 or go to the Hennepin Community Action web site. In Ramsey County (including St. Paul) and in Washington County, call 651-645-6470 or go to the Community Action site for the two counties.

The Cold Weather Rule is a state statute that allows households of all income levels to set up a payment plan with their utility company and as long as the payment plan is followed, heat cannot be shut off from Oct. 15-April 15. This means that only a portion of the bill is due each month. If a household earns 50% or less of the state’s median income ($10,184 over three months for a family of four) they are not required to pay more than 10% of their monthly income, according to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

These same households then qualify for grants from the low income home energy assistance program (LIHEAP). All that is needed for the application process is the previous three months income statements to prove eligibility. Grants range from $100-$1,300 and are based on need, Fair said.

“Apply early,” Fair said. The program runs out of money before the end of the season each year because of high demand.

Another program helps households that are just above the 50% income cutoff. Reach out for Warmth is designed to help those at 60% of the state’s median income or less. This program is funded by corporate and private donations that are then matched 2-to-1 by the state, Fair said.

Weatherization procedures, such as sealing major air leaks, are also provided by the Community Action programs to low income households as a one time service. Fair also suggests these do-it-yourself low cost methods to save on energy costs:

• Turn down the thermostat
• Make sure doors leading outside have a door sweep
• Cover drafty windows with plastic to reduce air leaks

The Department of Commerce Web site has a more complete list.

Kristin Anderson is a journalism student at the University of Minnesota and an intern at the TC Daily Planet.