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Heating help for Minnesota families: ‘Cold weather rule’ in effect

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As the mercury in the thermometer creeps down, the state Department of Commerce wants people who face financial challenges to know there are resources to help keep the heat on during the frigid winter months.

Minnesota's Cold Weather Rule takes effect Wednesday. This program was written into state law as a way to help protect customers who have trouble paying their heating bills. The law says heating companies must offer a payment plan, which limits monthly payments for eligible customers and may not disconnect their service if the payment plan is followed.

“The Cold Weather Rule and energy assistance helps Minnesota families that struggle financially with utility heating costs each winter, especially during bitterly cold winters like last year,” Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said in a news release. “No Minnesotan should be left out in the cold.”

Eligible customers who use natural gas or electricity to heat their homes must contact their utility company to establish and maintain a monthly payment plan to prevent their heat from being turned off from Oct. 15 through April 15, 2015.

Customers who have a combined household income at or below 50 percent of the state median income ($44,912 for a family of four) are not required to pay more than 10 percent of their household income; others are eligible to negotiate a payment plan with their utility company.

The Cold Weather Rule doesn't protect customers if they don't pay their bills, but utility companies provide several notifications and information on energy assistance programs prior to their service being disconnected. More information on assistance programs is available on the Stay Warm Minnesota website.

Customers who use fuel oil, propane or wood to heat their homes are not covered by the Cold Weather Rule, but many services have payment plans and assistance programs are also available, the Department of Commerce says.

Last winter, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program helped about 180,000 Minnesotans with their heating costs, WDAY reported in April.

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