Were your utilities shut off and you don’t have the money to turn them back on?
You’re not alone. The need for utility bill assistance is higher than ever, and it’s especially true for many felons. The financial strain of COVID-19 has resulted in the loss of work for many and has made it difficult for people to make ends meet.
Without being able to work, many felons are keeping to their homes where their utilities are constantly being used. Between appliances, air conditioners, heaters, chargers, and other technology, the cost of utilities is on the rise.
We expect the electricity bill in the summer to be higher because of the use of air conditioners or fans to combat the heat, and we expect the same in the winter with the heating bill being higher to combat the cold outside.
The difference now is that people are home ALL-DAY-LONG.
School and work are mostly done remotely from home now. We live where we work, and your utilities won’t know the difference when in use.
What is utility bill assistance?
Utility bill assistance is designed to help those who have trouble paying their home electricity or gas bill because of an emergency situation or crisis.
Utility companies offer various energy bill assistance programs to low-income families, seniors, those who are disabled, and struggling customers, in order to prevent the shut off of any service.
These programs can assist in either paying or saving money on your monthly energy bills. The types of resources available differ by each state, utility company, funding levels, and the season (i.e., winter vs. summer).
There are many different options available for struggling customers, no matter where you get your electric, gas, or heating service from.
How can you get your utility services turned back on?
Government programs that help with utility bills
States often have rules and regulations that utility companies must follow to delay a shut off and help people turn their electric service back on (including those with no money).
The Department of Health and Human services has a home energy assistance program as well. This program can help meet monthly utility payments for those struggling. (If you are struggling to pay rent in addition to your utility bills, check out our Guide to Emergency Housing Assistance)
If your utility services were shut off illegally, charitable legal aid may be available for you, too.
While more limited in availability, local charities and churches can offer money in order to turn electricity services back on.
Keep in mind, financial aid from a charity is usually in the form of a loan. This encourages applicants with little to no money to get a job, which results in the ability to keep your situation stable for the long run.
Fast cash loans for utility bills
If you don’t qualify for ongoing assistance programs, a cash loan may help you to make your payment (especially if your high utility bill was a one-time thing and is not likely to happen again).
There are two kinds of fast cash loans: Installment Loans and Payday Lending.
Installment loans are a fast cash option for those who have multiple monthly bills (that have piled up) and there is is a risk of the service(s) being shut off.
An installment loan allows you to pay back the loan over multiple installments (payments), so you can pay back the loan based on your energy needs and current financial situation.
Payday Lending is another fast cash option. This loan is for those whose utility bill is due now, but they won’t get paid until the following week. This loan is a short-term loan that will be paid back when you get paid next.
The benefits of Payday Lending are that it makes sure that your service does not get cut off and no penalties or late fees will be added to your account.
Be careful. ONLY those who have a license from the DOB (Division of Banks) can provide Payday Lending.
Payday Loans are different than Payday Lending as they are provided by third-party lenders who are not licensed by the DOB, which leaves you unprotected. Their interest rates are also much higher, averaging annual percentage rates of over 500% percent.
Payday Loans are illegal in Massachusetts but Payday Lending is not prohibited.
Try to make a better deal with your electricity company
There are ways you can get your electric bill lowered. While none are a guarantee, they are worth the shot and are at no risk to you.
Call and ask for a discount. There is usually a good chance of receiving a discount, and the worst that can happen is that the company says no. A good rule of thumb is to assume that everything is negotiable.
Decline the first offer. The first offer is usually not the best.
Know what you want upfront. Before negotiating anything, know what you want (and don’t want). Not only will this allow you to focus on what you are concerned about (like price) but it will make it difficult for you to be sold on extras that will only increase your total costs.
Do away with a contract. A contract often includes a built-in price increase, and you will want the flexibility to switch providers, whether you need to or want to.
If possible, shop around. If you speak with several providers, you will have the information needed to bargain for a better price. It’s similar to the saying “know your competition” and you will know theirs and can use that to your advantage.
Don’t be afraid to end the call. If you’re not getting what you want or need, you can always tell them you’ll think about it and get back to them later (Pro-Tip: you don’t have to actually call them back).
Downgrade your service. Think about what you really need versus what you want. You can cut costs by eliminating the services that sweeten the package but aren’t what you necessarily need.
Are you eligible for a discount on ‘your energy bill’ or another payment option?
You are eligible for a discount on ‘my energy bill’ or another payment option if you qualify for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) or receive any of the following means-tested public-benefit programs:
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC)
Emergency Aid to Elderly, Disabled and Children (EAEDC) Food Stamps (SNAP)
Refugee Resettlement Benefits
MassHealth Standard, CarePlus, or Limited1
Free and Reduced School Lunch or Breakfast Program
MassVeterans Benefits (G.L.c. 115)
Dependency & Indemnity Compensation (DIC) for Surviving Spouse or Parents of Veterans
Improved Veterans Disability Pension
ConnectCare Plan, Types 1, 2, or 3A
Health Safety Net Plan – Primary or Secondary
Women, Infants & Children (WIC)
If you are not eligible, you can contact your gas or electricity company to determine if you qualify for a discounted rate.
Organizations that help pay your utility bill
There are many organizations and programs that can provide help with your utility bills while you are looking for a job.
While the following is not a complete list of all of the organizations that can provide utility bill assistance, here are a few that we know of and think can be beneficial to you.
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)(Fuel Assistance)
LIHEAP is the main government program that works to help low-income families and individuals pay their heating bills during the winter.
The fuel assistance program is administered through local community action programs (CAPs), and you can find which CAP serves your area on their site.
This program provides assistance through a fixed benefit amount for the cost of the primary source of heat which includes, but is not limited to, oil, electricity, natural gas, propane, kerosene, wood, and coal.
Eligibility is based on the size of the household and gross annual income of every household member (18 years and older), and your income cannot exceed 60% of the estimated state median income.
If you are a first-time applicant, you must apply in person at the fuel assistance agency in your area.
After the first year, applications are mailed to the household to re-apply, and households must apply again each year during the application window (November 1st-April 30th).
To speak with a representative regarding LIHEAP you can call the following:
Massachusetts Heat Line:
Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD)
Community Services Unit:
Good Neighbor Energy Fund
The Good Neighbor Energy Fund is the combined efforts of Massachusetts energy companies and The Salvation Army of Massachusetts to provide assistance to those in temporary crises.
Good Neighbor Energy Fund is a resource for Massachusetts families and individuals to help pay for their energy bills (gas, oil, heating, and electric) while they are going through financial difficulties.
It is available to any Massachusetts resident who is can’t afford the month’s energy bills due to temporary financial difficulty.
To qualify you must be ineligible for state or federal assistance, and your income must fall between 60-80 percent of the state’s median income levels.
The Good Neighbor Energy Fund helps those, like the working poor, who wouldn’t otherwise qualify for government assistance. Without this assistance, many of these households would not be able to pay their monthly heating and utility bills.
You can apply for assistance by directly contacting your local Salvation Army Service Center.
Netwish is all about paying it forward. They hope to be the catalyst to inspire others to provide acts of help and kindness. NetWish is not a traditional non-profit organization or charity.
NetWish uses the power of the Internet to provide direct and immediate assistance to families and individuals who desperately require a modest helping hand.
Their main focus is how aid will benefit children, older adults, and other vulnerable members of the community.
In order to apply to NetWish, you must be a United States resident, state your situation, and explain why you need assistance. You must also provide the specific use for the financial aid. You cannot request more than $200 per wish.
You can submit your wish directly on their website. You can also see examples of the past wishes NetWish has possible, as well as reviews from those who have been helped.
Operation Homefront is a national non-profit whose goal is to build strong, stable, and secure military families so that they can thrive in the communities they’ve helped to protect.
Operation Homefront’s Critical Financial Assistance aids with overdue bills, repairs, and other critical family needs for those who serve, or have served, in the military.
Qualified applicants are active duty, deployed, veterans, and those wounded, ill, or injured in service. You can find a complete list of Eligibility Criteria on their site.
Currently, Operation Homefront is accepting and processing immediate requests outside of the normal monthly application cycle (1st-10th of each month). You can apply at any time.
In order to apply, you need to create a log-in on their website.
United Way Assistance
United Way works to combat chronic unemployment, financial illiteracy, and homelessness. The financial obstacles faced by many people and families are preventing the ability to have a good quality life.
United Way Assistance helps to guide and advise you to financial security and wellness. This starts with access to services, job training, credit counseling, and money management. Their hope is to put you back on your feet and on the path toward financial empowerment.
Their website provides resources to help you increase your income and better manage your money.
Tools and Resources:
Help Paying Your Bills
Use Community Resources to Stretch Your Money Further
7 Ways to Increase Income
How to Deal with Collection Agencies
Tips for Prioritizing Monthly Expenses
How to Cut Monthly Expenses
Financial Products and Services: How to Save
There are roughly 1,800 local United Ways around the world. You can find yours here.
Modest Needs is not funded by the government or large foundations. It’s funded almost entirely by people with compassion.
Modest Needs offers grants that are designed to promote self-sufficiency. They provide short term financial assistance to individuals and families who are in temporary financial crises.
Assistance is only for those who are working and live just above the poverty level, making them ineligible for conventional social assistance.
In order to apply, you will need your most recently filed tax return OR the most recent bank statement you’ve received for all of the adults in your household.
Make sure that you have between 30-45 minutes to complete their grant application.
For part of the application process, you will be asked to provide documentation for what you’ve told them about your identity, employment, income, and of course, the expense you need their donors’ help to afford.
To apply, you will need to register on their website.
Citizens Energy Corporation (Joe-4-Sun)
Citizens Energy Corporation’s in a non-profit energy company. They use the profits from their successful and innovative energy ventures to provide affordable energy for all.
Their program, Joe-4-Sun is a low-income community shared solar program that offers solar energy at a large discount to families in need. Joe-4-Sun allows access to affordable renewable energy.
In order to apply, you need your most recent electric bill and proof of a future payment method.
J-4-SUN is a NO COST, no obligation program. You will never pay any extra fees and you are able to cancel at any time for free.
Citizen Energy Corporation’s Joe-4-Sun currently offers 50% off on clean energy produced at Citizen Energy’s utility-scale solar farms across the Commonwealth.
In order to qualify, you must be a low-income rate payer with National Grid or Eversource. You can apply for the 50% Discount offer here. Applications can be sent online or by mail.
You can also visit their website or email them directly for more information.
There’s always a way!
There is no one-size-fits-all for these programs and there may be more than one that is ‘right’ for you and your family’s needs. You may not find the best way(s) for you immediately, either, but do not let that discourage you.
There are so many resources, tools, programs, and people that want to help with your current situation now, as well as provide you with the necessary guidance that is needed to prevent this from happening again in the future. And with the internet, the access to these resources is easier than ever.
Everyone deserves to have their basic needs met and utility bill assistance is vital for that to happen for many people. These programs are dedicated to helping and are here for exactly that reason – to help you.
Check out the resources that are listed throughout this article. While you may not qualify for them all, and some may not relate to your situation, there is only one way for you to find that out!
Please share in the comments below how you were able to get assistance paying your bills.
About The Author
Joe is the founder of HireFelons.org. Having had friends and co-workers who have a felony conviction, Joe Hunter decided to use his expert knowledge in starting a successful business to launch HireFelons.org and teach as many former felons as possible how to earn a decent income, when finding a traditional job is simply not an option.