ROCHESTER, Minn, (KTTC) -- With temperatures well below freezing for several days recently, people may be needing energy or utility bill assistance.
"Energy assistance helps people pay for their heat and electric. And it can be renters and homeowners," said Lynette Stott, Energy Programs Coordinator for Three Rivers Community Action. Three Rivers provides support for individuals in need with Rochester, Zumbrota, Faribault, and Wabasha areas.
"Coming out of the polar vortex these last couple of weeks, we know that people who heat with propane may have gone through a lot of that fuel in their tank, more so than they might have this time of year," said Stott. "So, if you have a low tank, we can help get a fuel delivery out to you, if you are eligible for the program."
She said eligibility is income-based and some people who may think they aren't eligible may still be able to get assistance.
"We can help with connected utilities. So electricity and natural gas. We help people who heat with wood or corn pellets or whatever it is. It's a great program for anyone in need," said Stott.
Minnesota Energy Resources is also promoting the program and is working with customers to ease the burden.
"We can walk you through payment plan options. We can walk you through budget billing which can help evenly distribute your energy bill throughout the year. So rather than having peeks in the winter and valleys in the summer, it evens out those payments," said Senior Communications Specialist Alison Trouy.
Stott said statewide, only about a quarter of income-eligible families are applying for energy assistance. She said applications are down across Minnesota compared to last year.
"I think that's because of a couple of reasons. Because people have not got disconnect notices or have not been shut off, which is a good thing," Stott said.
She said many companies honor the Cold Weather Rule, which helps protect people from having their heat turned off between Oct. 15 and April 15.
"They're still going to owe that money. So, we want to make certain is people aren't saying, 'well, I'm not getting shut off right now, so I'm not going to apply,'" said Stott. "And we can really help eliminate that past due that people have on their bill. Because eventually it's going to have to be paid and all that bad debt."
She said Three Rivers processes energy assistance applications within two weeks of receiving them.
"And certainly, people who have an empty fuel tank, or they have a disconnect notice, or they've had those applications shut off, will get processed immediately," Stott added.
Another way to get through any utility bill concerns is to use less energy in general.
"Lower your thermostat when you go to sleep at night, or if you're leaving the house for the day. Lowering the thermostat, even just a few degrees can make a big difference," said Trouy. "We also recommend letting the sunshine in on sunny days. Open those blinds and curtains to let the natural warmth of the sun in, and at night make sure to close them back up so that the warmth that you've collected over the day, doesn't escape back out."
Trouy added, "you might want to use plastic sheeting around your windows that can help seal out the air. That's a really great option for customers. We also recommend sealing cracks and gaps. If your windows are not sealed properly, if you can see light coming through where you shouldn't, make sure you get that sealed."
Rochester Public Utilities (RPU) said it also has payment programs and suggests customers reach out to RPU for help.