2020 was a long, tough year for many people. Households throughout the country are facing hard times, and even here in Grand Rapids, MN, the ability to pay the bills isn’t guaranteed for people who have lost their job, been furloughed or fallen ill in the midst of the pandemic. This is a dangerous prospect in the middle of winter—largely because the inability to pay your utility bills could lead to a shutoff of your electricity or gas.
If you’re one of the households unable to pay your utility bills, it’s important that you understand your options for shutoff protection in MN. This is a program offered by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, meant to protect you from dangerous heating shutoffs in the throes of winter.
MN utility shutoff protection
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission offers several resources for individuals who can’t pay their bills and who risk utility shutoff in the winter.
First is the Cold Weather Rule—a mandate all Minnesota public works companies must abide by. It states that utility companies must work with customers to broker a payment plan, effective between October 15 and April 15. The Cold Weather Rule also provides clear-cut MN utility shutoff protection guidelines, stating that utilities must provide you with the following before turning off your gas or electricity:
- A formal notice of disconnection;
- Payment plan options to stop a disconnection;
- Appeal rights if you and the utility cannot agree on a payment plan;
- A list of local energy assistance and weatherization providers;
- A list of no- and low-cost methods to conserve energy;
- A Third-Party Notice form.
The purpose of the Cold Weather Rule is to prevent the sudden and dangerous shutoff of vital heat during the winter months, to protect families. It’s meant to give you ample opportunity to create an affordable payment plan and to seek further protection if you can’t cover your utility costs.
Resources for shutoff protection in MN
If you’re already on a payment plan with your utility provider and need further shutoff protection in MN, there are other resources out there you can and should turn to. Residents of Grand Rapids, MN can contact all of the following for assistance with everything from bill pay to appeals support:
- County Human Services offers emergency food, housing and medical assistance.
- Energy Assistance Program may cover home heating costs for low-income households.
- The Salvation Army HeatShare provides emergency utility assistance.
- United Way 2-1-1 is a free service that helps individuals in need find local resources.
It’s also worth exploring your qualification for the Gas Affordability Program (GAP) or the Low-Income Electric Rate Discount. These programs are both available to households going through tough economic times, as well as those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The important thing to remember this winter is that you’re not alone. If you can’t pay your bills, you have options. While utility companies can legally turn off the gas or electricity for delinquent customers during the winter, this is a last resort! The fact is, utility companies want to work with you to keep the heat on in your home. All you need to do is reach out and let them know you need help.