Attorney General’s Office Creates New Resources for Communities; Working with Organizations Across the State to Raise Awareness About Available Assistance
With electric and natural gas rates set to rise this winter season, Attorney General Maura Healey today launched a campaign to educate customers about new and expanded programs available to assist them in paying their energy bills.
Due to COVID-19 economic uncertainty and volatility in global fossil fuel prices, customers in New England will see a spike in energy prices this winter. Customers who use gas to heat their homes should expect an increase on their monthly bill, and those who use oil could see an even bigger rise. Some customers also will see an increase in their electric bills.
“With heating and electricity prices on the rise this winter, we want customers who are worried about paying their monthly bills to know that help is available,” AG Healey said. “My office is working to educate customers, already struggling with COVID-19 hardships, on how they can access the financial assistance they need to stay warm this winter. Call your utility company today to take advantage of available programs, discounts, and payment plans that are out there.”
As part of today’s education campaign, divisions across the AG’s Office are working together to provide communities with resources and urge customers to contact their utility company to learn about the range of financial assistance programs available to them.
Enroll in a payment plan with your utility
Massachusetts utility companies offer several financial assistance programs for customers, including flexible payment plans – regardless of income – as well as balance forgiveness programs for those eligible. The AG’s Office encourages customers who are experiencing difficulty paying their monthly bills to contact their providers as soon as possible to learn about the options available to them and other ways to reduce energy use and lower bills.
Customers who enroll in and follow a payment plan with their utility company are protected from having their service shut off for the duration of the plan. Most utility companies are providing payment plans for up to 12 months. Utility costs often fluctuate depending on the season, the price of energy, and customer usage, and budget billing can help manage these fluid costs through predictable payments.
Look into income-eligible assistance programs
The AG’s Office encourages customers who are struggling financially to consult with their utility company to see if they qualify for an income-eligible rate, which provides a discount on the customer’s entire bill. Customers may also qualify for their utility’s arrearage management program (AMP). The AMP provides for an individualized payment plan that, if followed, allows the customer to have forgiven all or a portion of an outstanding unpaid balance. Customers could be eligible for low-income assistance, even if they have not been eligible in the past, as eligibility is based on the last four weeks of gross household income.
Additionally, income-eligible customers can benefit from the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). In order to qualify for LIHEAP and other income-eligible assistance programs, customers must have a household income that does not exceed 60 percent of the state median income. Applications for LIHEAP for the 2021-2022 heating season can be submitted now and throughout the winter. For help in determining their eligibility for these programs, and to learn more about how to apply, customers should contact their local Community Action Network.
Customers who have a household income that is between 60 to 80 percent of the state median income may be able to seek help from the Good Neighbor Energy Fund.
Help for renters
Renters who are struggling to afford their rent and utility costs may qualify for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). ERAP is available to renters with a household income at or below 80 percent of the area median income. Residents experiencing COVID-19 related financial hardship may qualify for ERAP through one of six regional housing agencies.
Winter shutoff moratorium
Residential customers are protected from having their gas or electric service shutoff from November 15, 2021 to March 15, 2022 if the service is needed for heating. More information about the shut-off protections available to qualifying Massachusetts residents can be found here. Customers will, however, still be responsible for paying bills after the winter moratorium ends and making no payments during the four-month period means a larger bill to pay later. To avoid falling into debt, the AG’s Office urges customers to enroll in a payment plan that will provide shut-off protection and potentially balance forgiveness.
Get an energy efficiency audit
The AG’s Office also recommends that customers consider contacting Mass Save for an energy efficiency audit to see how they can reduce their overall energy use, which should result in lower monthly utility bills over time.
Beware of competitive suppliers
The AG’s Office urges customers to beware of deceptive competitive electric suppliers who may try to lure them to enroll with a promise of cheaper electricity. A report released by the AG’s Office in April 2021 showed that Massachusetts customers who received their electricity from competitive suppliers were charged $426 million more on their bills than if they would have stayed with their utility.
As the ratepayer advocate for Massachusetts, AG Healey’s Energy and Telecommunications Division works to ensure reasonable prices, access to clean energy for all customers, and to educate them on the available programs to help them keep the lights on and stay warm.
For more information on electric and gas prices and the available assistance programs view the AG’s new resource flyer and webpage, which includes contact information for the state’s utility companies. The resource flyers will be provided to community organizations including consumer advocates, municipal associations, nonprofit service organizations, and food pantries. Customers who have concerns about their utility rights should contact the AG’s consumer assistance hotline at 617-727-8400 or file a complaint online.
For inquiries about rate increases and other policy questions, contact Assistant Attorney General and Policy Advisor Elizabeth Mahony at firstname.lastname@example.org.