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Posted on: October 20, 2021

Utility Bill Assistance Programs

Utility Bill Assistance

Minnesota's Energy assistance program expands to offer more benefits, cold weather rule protections start earlier

September 27, 2021 | Energy, Consumer Alerts

This year, Minnesotans can access greater financial assistance and newly expanded protections to keep their homes warm and lights on through Minnesota’s Energy Assistance Program and Minnesota’s Cold Weather Rule.

New in 2021:

More Minnesotans than ever qualify for the Energy Assistance Program. In 2021, the Minnesota Department of Commerce, which operates the Energy Assistance Program, has over $130 million in federal funding, with more expected this fall, to help more Minnesota households. The Energy Assistance Program helps Minnesota households pay for current and past-due bills for electricity, gas, oil, biofuel and propane, emergency fuel delivery, and repair/replacement of homeowners’ broken heating systems, and could also cover water and sewer bills. 

Commerce raised the income eligibility limit to 60% of Minnesota’s median income levels ($67,765 per year for a family of four) and is significantly increasing benefit amounts to reduce energy burdens more than ever, including up to $1,600 for energy bills, plus up to $1,200 for past-due energy bills.

With these changes, over 600,000 Minnesota households are income-eligible for Energy Assistance, significantly expanding who can receive this essential help. During the previous program year (October 2020-September 2021), about 116,000 Minnesota households applied and qualified for Energy Assistance. 

The Cold Weather Rule goes into effect earlier (October 1) and lasts later (April 30). Minnesota’s Cold Weather Rule (CWR), which is administered by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, protects residential utility customers from having electric or natural gas service shut off between October 1 and April 30. The effective dates of the Cold Weather Rule were extended 15 days in the fall and 15 days in the spring by the Minnesota Legislature in 2021. Commerce advocated for this change after engaging in annual Tribal consultation and learning from Tribal leaders about concerns that Minnesota’s changing climate was leading to cold spells earlier in fall and later in spring. 

Both homeowners and renters are eligible for CWR protection – the utility account must be in your name. You and your utility must agree to a payment plan that is reasonable for your household.

For more information or assistance, see the PUC “Shutoff Protection” info online or call the PUC’s Consumer Affairs Office: 651-296-0406. 

Water bill assistance is newly available and households can also qualify for weatherization. By submitting one application through the Energy Assistance Program, households could qualify for payments to cover both water and energy bills, and qualify them for the Minnesota Weatherization Program, also operated by Commerce. Weatherization helps households with home improvements to conserve energy and lower their energy costs permanently. Water bill assistance is new, created through one-time federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. 

“Commerce is working to provide Minnesotans with more options so you can afford critical services – heat, water, lights, power – that you need to be safe and comfortable in your home,” said Commerce Commissioner Grace Arnold. 

“People should call their utilities and sign up for payment plans, or call our offices for assistance. We want to ensure everyone gets the help they need to have reliable power this winter,” said Katie Sieben, the Chair of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. 

Energy Assistance Program:

How do you apply? Request an application or find your local service provider with one of these options: 

  • Search online for “Minnesota energy assistance” 
  • Go online: mn.gov/energyassistance 
  • Call 800-657-3710 and press 1 

Who qualifies? More Minnesotans qualify than ever before.

  • Homeowners and renters can qualify for energy assistance.
  • Commerce has raised the income eligibility to 60% of median household income. 
  • The application considers previous 3 months income and does not include federal stimulus or unemployment payments.

How does the program work?  

  • Payments on energy and water bills are sent directly to the household’s utility company 
  • Households also receive education on efficient and safe use of energy. 

Cold Weather Rule

How do you sign up?

Contact your natural gas or electric company and request a Cold Weather Rule (CWR) payment plan. Payment plans can be established at any time during the CWR season. If you are unable to agree on a payment amount, you have the right to appeal with your natural gas or electric company. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission Consumer Affairs Office is available to assist.

Can your heat be shut off during winter?

YES. You must make and keep a CWR payment plan with your natural gas or electric utility company to receive CWR protection between October 1 and April 30. This is true for all residential customers, including senior citizens and families with young children.

Payment plans can be established at any time during the CWR season. If the payment plan is broken by you, the natural gas or electric company is not required to offer additional arrangements. If you are unable to agree on a payment amount, you request an appeal from your natural gas or electric company.

With You Every Day

The Minnesota Department of Commerce mission is to protect all Minnesotans in their everyday financial transactions by investigating and evaluating services, and advocating that they be fair, accessible and affordable. Wherever you are in Minnesota, the Department of Commerce is with you every day. Whether you’re filling up on gas, purchasing a home, working to reduce energy consumption or rebuilding after a disaster—we are with you, no matter what. The Minnesota Department of Commerce oversees more than 20 regulated industries, ensuring that Minnesota businesses are strong and Minnesota consumers are protected. Learn more at mn.gov/commerce

Minnesota Public Utilities Commission

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission regulates three cornerstone service industries in Minnesota's economy: electricity, natural gas and telephone. The Commission’s mission is to create and maintain a regulatory environment that ensures safe, adequate and efficient utility services at fair, reasonable rates consistent with State telecommunications and energy policies. It does so by providing independent, consistent, professional and comprehensive oversight and regulation of utility service providers. Learn more at mn.gov/puc

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