Surviving Winter: Find Relief for Your Utility Bill
The holiday season is meant to be a time of cheer, but for some, finding the financial means to stay warm in the winter is stress-inducing. Making ends meet can mean having to choose between living in a properly heated house or paying for basics like food or transportation. If there are children involved, the problems are magnified all the more. Thankfully, there are places to turn to for help.
Find Relief for Your High Utility Bill
Utility Companies - While it might seem counterintuitive, utility companies can provide assistance. The two primary ways utility companies help are through averaging and providing information. Averaging involves spreading costs over the 12 months of the year. Instead of getting hit hard in the cold months, your payments will be spread out over the course of the year. The other way your power or gas company can provide assistance is through referrals. Their websites have links that can take you to organizations that can help pay the bills.
Benefits.gov - It's an expansive site with a lot of information about a wide variety of programs meant to help those in need and those in need of government benefits. Their information on energy assistance is particularly useful. States are listed in alphabetical order, and agencies are grouped accordingly. The federal program is called the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP.
Weatherization - Benefits.gov not only has links to monetary help, but there is also information on government-sponsored "weatherization" programs. While that might not provide immediate relief, the long-term savings are obvious. If you have a drafty house, getting it properly weatherized can cut your heating bill substantially and add value to your home.
State Programs - In addition to LIHEAP, many states administer utility relief programs that offer more relief to persons in need. OEAP, or Oregon Energy Assistance Program, is one example. It's primary function is to assist households in danger of having their utility service cut off because of high energy costs. Applications are made through a large number of local community service agencies. The program is quite similar to what is offered in some other states.
Charities - There are a number of charities that can help people who are having a hard time keeping the heat on, especially when there are children living in the home. A list of NGOs and churches offering some level of relief for your utility bill can be found here.
Other Ways to Save
Don't overlook ways you can help yourself as well. Plan for the more expensive months by saving money where possible during the less financially strained months. If you know what's coming, putting a few dollars aside can help stave off a power disconnect.
Look for ways to cut your bill in advance of the high heating season. Weatherization has already been discussed as one financially relieving tool. Think outside of the box to effectively weatherize your home; for example, use heavy curtains to block heat from escaping through windows. On the flip side, don't be afraid to open the curtains when there is sunshine that can provide thermal heating through the windows.
The best course of action is to be proactive. If you think there might be a problem getting income to match up with expenses, don't be intimidated by an application process; get the paperwork started. Understand that the programs exist to help those in need and that it is perfectly fine to take advantage of them. Take any steps you can to reduce your energy bill through more efficient lighting or weatherizing. Be prepared - and turn surviving winter utility bills into a reality.