The onset of winter weather brings changes and challenges for Minnesotans with disabilities. Be prepared and stay safe, whether at home or out and about.
Staying indoors? Heating bills can be an eye-opener, as costs have risen. It’s always worth checking a household’s eligibility for Minnesota’s Energy Assistance Program.
The program is free and provides benefits of up to $1,400. There is also additional support to respond to heating emergencies.
Both home owners and renters may qualify. Eligibility is based on income and household size. An example is that a family of four could earn up to $62,822 and qualify for help.
Payments for energy bills are sent directly to the household’s energy company or to a provider of fuel like propane, fuel oil or wood. Initial benefits average $500 per household and can be up to $1,400.
The state’s Energy Assistance Program is federally funded and administered by the Department of Commerce, which works with local service providers throughout the state. The state website lists providers by county.
The deadline to apply for energy assistance during the winter of 2023-2024 is May 31, 2024. Want to know more? Go to Energy Assistance Program
Minnesota has a Cold Energy Rule, which has been in place since the 1980s. It is a state law that protects residential utility customers from having electric or natural gas service shut off between October 1 and April 30. To protect service from disconnection, people must make and keep a payment plan that that is agreed upon with a home or apartment’s utility provider.
Under state law, a utility must offer a payment plan that is reasonable for your household’s financial circumstances. A payment plan may be set up any time during the Cold Weather Rule season.
Renters are eligible if the electricity or gas are the primary heat source, and if they pay utilities.
All natural gas and electric utilities must offer protection under the Cold Weather Rule. The rule does not apply to delivered fuels, such as oil, propane or wood. Anyone who uses delivered fuels and has a furnace powered with electricity can seek Cold Weather Rule assistance with the electricity provider.
Anyone interest should call their natural gas, electric, municipal utility or electric cooperative for more information, or contact the Public Utilities Commission’s Consumer Affairs Office at c[email protected] or 651-296-0406, 1-800-657-3782.
Learn more at Shutoff Protection
Take other steps to hold down energy bills. Through federal funding, Minnesota also offers the Weatherization Assistance Program. Known as WAP, the program is provided by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
WAP enables income-qualified households to permanently reduce their energy bills by helping to make their homes more energy efficient while protecting the health and safety of family members. In Minnesota, WAP services are delivered by 23 service providers across the state. The program is worth looking into. Learn more at Weatherization Assistance Providers
A heating system should be checked annually. Heating systems should be tuned up every year and replaced with newer, more efficient models at the end of their lifespan. Check with community action programs to see if help is available for tune-ups or repairs.
Many websites provide information on how to keep one’s home warm without busting an energy budget. Manually set the thermostat at 68°F during the day and lower it at bedtime or when everyone is away at work or school. A “smart” thermostat is a good investment, and an easy way to automatically adjust temperatures.
Weatherize windows and doors. Plastic over windows can keep the cold out. So can heavy drapes or even a blanket over windows at bedtime. Seal any leaks in doors and windows using weatherization techniques such as draft snakes. Draft snakes are long fabric tubes filled with batting that are put at the base of a door to keep drafts out. Make a draft snake with old, long socks or leggings.
Avoid using space heaters and open ovens to provide heat. Space heaters are inefficient and don’t distribute warmth around your home as well as your heating system does. Space heaters and ovens can also cause danger.
Use the power of the sun. Open the drapes and blinds during the day to harness the power of the sun to warm up a home.
Keep extra blankets, flashlights and candles on hand in the event of a power loss due to winter storms. Close off unused rooms to conserve heat.
A great resource is on the Hennepin County website. Learn more at Hennepin County Climate Action.
Another resource is University of Minnesota Extension, which has a wide range of information on home management. There’s a section on extreme weather that has some great tips. Learn more at Home and Financial Management.