By Charlotte Lane
Chair, West Virginia Public Service
As winter approaches, it is time to start preparing for heating season. All around the world, the cost of fuel is higher than last year. While the Public Service Commission doesn’t control the cost of natural gas, coal or any other fuel source – those prices are determined by the open market – we know heating bills will be higher this year. Sadly, such increases always hit hardest on those who are most vulnerable, so I want to spread the word that help is available.
If you are eligible to receive financial assistance through the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), you are probably also eligible for a discounted rate on your heating bill. The Special Reduced Residential Service Rate Program, better known as the 20% Discount Program, is administered by DHHR and is available from all natural gas and electric utilities, except municipal or cooperative service providers. West Virginia American Water Company also participates in the program.
In order to qualify for the rate reduction, you must receive assistance from at least one of the following programs: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously called Food Stamps, if the recipient is at least 60 years old; Social Security Supplemental Security Income (SSI); or WV WORKS, previously called Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF). You must receive these program benefits between November and March to receive the reduced rate for your gas and/or electric bills issued for those months. The discount program for West Virginia American Water runs year round.
While DHHR administers the program, individual utilities are responsible for determining who will be granted the reduced rate. If you qualify to apply for the discount, DHHR will notify you. Then you may contact your utility companies to apply. If you have not been contacted, but feel that you should qualify, contact your local DHHR office to ask for a review.
Last year the 20% Discount Program saved West Virginians more than $6.5 million on their heating and water bills. If you combine this resource with the federally-funded LIHEAP assistance, it could give you just the edge you need to stay comfortable and warm this winter.