ROCHESTER, Minn. - If you're struggling to pay your gas and electric utility bills due to the pandemic there's now millions of dollars available to help you catch up on payments.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce is encouraging thousands of households to apply for $167 million in new funding for the energy assistance program provided by the American Rescue Plan federal stimulus.
Starting Aug. 2 pandemic restrictions governing utility companies lifted meaning Minnesotans with unpaid energy bills may now be experiencing a shut-off.
In Olmsted County Rochester Public Utilities has resumed shutoffs after about a year and a half. Three Rivers Community Action says the non-profit has been hearing from families who've had their energy off for up to ten days and weren't aware the energy assistance program is available.
And, they're not alone. The Minnesota Department of Commerce says 340,000 households across the state have past-due utility bills for electric and gas energy which comes out to be around $140 million owed.
Applications are now open all year and households with incomes at or below 60% of the median income qualify. You can submit an application with RPU, the Minnesota Department of Commerce, or Three Rivers Community Action.
Energy Programs Coordinator Lynette Engelhardt Stott explained, "People do have to apply. It's a four-page application. People do have to submit proof of their income and most importantly, in addition to all of that, people have to let us know their account numbers and the name on the account because we can't help with a shut off if we don't even know who shut you off and what the account number is. So, basic information on the app and the more complete they can submit that the more quickly we can help."
Households could receive up to $1,600 for energy bills and could qualify for an additional $1,200 to cover past-due bills.
Stott added,"Sometimes the income isn't enough to cover all the expenses so energy assistance is a nice way to take some of that pressure off and have us help pay for those bills. So, it can help stretch money. We like to say you don't have to choose between medicine and heat, you don't have to choose between food and heat. There are programs here to help."
You can find an application through Three Rivers Community Action here.
You can find the Minnesota Department of Commerce's application here.