cold weather rule explainedWhen the cold weather kicks in, gas bills skyrocket. For a family struggling to pay their bills, a gas bill can overwhelm their budget. There are ways to get help.

Setup payment plan with utility company

Utilities don’t want to turn off your gas or electric in the cold winter months, but they must receive some payment. Setup a payment plan. There are plans to catch up on your delinquent bill. There are also plans that estimate your annual utility cost and spread the payments throughout the year so you’re not hit with a $300 bill in the winter. You pay the same amount each month so you can budget properly.

Cold Weather Rule stops utility disconnection

While a payment plan is your best bet long term, you will get some temporary protection when the temperature plunges. The Cold Weather Rule prohibits disconnection when the temperature reaches a pre-determined degree for 24 hours. This prevents disconnection during a cold snap. The rules vary by state.

In Missouri, the program covers gas and electric shutoff during the winter. It runs from November 1 through March 31st. The cold weather rule kicks in when the temperature drops below 32 degrees for 24 hours. Your gas or electric will not be shut off for non-payment. You must create a budget plan for 12 months, and beyond that for pre-existing bills.

In Kansas, the rule kicks in when the temperature dips below 35 degrees or it’s in the mid to low 30s for 24 hours. You must pay 1/12 of the current bill plus 1/12 of the overdue amount.

Ohio doesn’t offer a reconnection rule. Instead, there is a winter reconnection program. You pay $175 to reconnect your service or just pay the amount owed plus a reconnect fee of no more than $36. You can use it one time during the winter months. It’s not income based, but you must sign up for a payment plan.

Call 211 to find energy assistance programs

There are all sorts of assistance programs for low income resident and veterans. To qualify, you typically have to meet federal poverty level guidelines. Millions of dollars are set aside each year for assistance.

Finding these programs is as easy as dialing 211. That number connects you with United Way. The agency has a database of programs in your area that match your needs.

The Patriot Plan helps active duty Reservists or National Guardsman. This program does not apply to regular active duty military members. If you get a disconnect notice while being called up for active duty, you can’t be disconnected for non-payment. You will be given the same time as you were deployed to catch up on your payments. You will not be charged late fees or interest. Call 1-800-686-PUCO for more information.

Ohio HEAP is a federally funded low-income heating program that makes a one time payment toward your bill. You qualify if your income is at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines. Call 1-800-282-0880 to sign up.

There’s even a summer HEAP program when electric bills skyrocket from the summer heat.

PIPP lowers your energy bill into an affordable energy payment plan. There are several variations depending on your main source of heat and income.

HWAP is the Home Weatherization Assistance Program. It’s federally funded to help weatherize homes for families that fall at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines. It allows you to get insulation and perhaps a more energy-efficient HVAC system. The program found HWAP participants saw a reduction of gas usage around 24.7% and electric use went down about 13%. You can call 1-800-282-0880 for questions about the program.

You can also get connected with local charities or churches offering utility assistance by calling 211.