What You Might Not Know About the Cold Weather Rule

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As we experience God’s blessings during this fall season, we think about colorful leaves,apple cider, a trip to the pumpkin patch, and other fun outdoor festivities. None of us really wants to think about what is right around the corner…winter (ugh!).

Some of us rake our leaves & make room in the garage for the car to be parked. Others put plastic on windows and winterize the air conditioning unit. Some people look forward to winter for the snowy fun it brings, but some of our neighbors feel anxious about the toll that higher heating bills will take on their family’s finances.

You may be thinking, “They’ll be okay, we have a Cold Weather Rulethey can’t be shut off; it’s the middle of winter.” And, you’re right, we do have a Cold Weather Rule. However, there are some common misconceptions about exactly how it works.

Actually, “THEY” (your utility company) CAN SHUT YOUR HEAT OFF.

Thankfully, Centerpoint Energy recently published a nice summary about the Cold Weather Rule. Click here to learn more.

If you find yourself in a situation where you need to rely on the Cold Weather Rule, please read through the link above carefully and follow the steps outlined. Here is a brief summary to avoid being shut off this winter:

  1. The Cold Weather Rule applies from October 15 through April 15.
  2. You MUST contact your utility provider and ask to set up a payment plan under the Cold Weather Rule.
  3. Keep up with your payment plan. You can be shut off if you miss a payment or make a payment less than the agreed amount.
  4. Take it seriously if you receive a past due notice from your heating utility provider.

If you are experiencing financial hardship, here are some budgeting tips that can help:

  1. Keeping a roof over your head needs to be a priority for your budget.
  2. Check with your utility provider to see if you can get onto a budget plan all year round.
  3. Utilize resources like Ruby’s Pantry or your local food shelf to free up some of your food budget, which in turn can be used for heating expenses.
  4. Look into whether or not Energy Assistance through Lutheran Social Service or HeatShare through The Salvation Army is an option for your household.

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If you or someone you know needs assistance with accessing resources for heating costs, please call Bridges of Hope at 218-825-7682.

If you are interested in making a donation to help Bridges of Hope to assist families in need, please click here or mail your gift to PO Box 742, Brainerd, MN 56401.

Thank you for helping us build Bridges!

 

 

Iris’ Moment

IrisIris was a widow living on her own, with her beloved dog Rosie as her constant companion. She was continually struggling to make ends meet on a fixed income, but she reached a breaking point when she received a disconnect notice on her electric last spring.

Iris’ adult son was able to help with her mortgage once in awhile; and Iris also had good friend, also a widow, with whom she would frequently car pool–but this bill was something that neither could help with.

By the time she called Bridges of Hope, Iris was 5 months behind and had accumulated a bill that had nearly reached $1,000. She had been receiving Energy Assistance through Lutheran Social Service over the winter and had been under the impression that it was taking care of her monthly bills, but in fact the assistance had run out in February, and it had only been covering a portion of her full bill amount each month. Iris had already sought out the Salvation Army for Heat Share assistance, and they were able to help with a small portion toward the total past-due bill. She was also working with her mortgage company to get her monthly mortgage payment lowered, so her entire expenses each month would be slightly more affordable.

After working with Iris over the phone, I was able to meet with Iris and look at her budget even more in-depth. Based on the information, I suggested she connect with Financial Counseling from LSS, who specializes in that kind of assistance. At that point, Iris pulled out two sheets of paper from her purse–she had already completed financial counseling with them and had her new budget right there for me to look at! Iris had still not heard back from her mortgage company about a lower payment, but she was expecting that once it was processed, her living situation would be sustainable in the future. We knew if that happened, and if we could help Iris get caught up on the electric bill, she should be able to afford her life going forward.

About a week later, Iris stopped into the Bridges of Hope office to let me know her mortgage payment had been cut in half–great news! I helped her start the process of finding resources to get her house weatherized before next winter, and I was able to let her know that Bridges would be helping her with her electric bill as well. She expressed her thanks, saying she couldn’t thank Bridges of Hope enough. Two weeks after that, we made a follow-up call with Iris to see how things were going. It happened to fall right on her 80th birthday, and she let us know that she was now caught up on all of her monthly bills and was even putting away a portion of money into savings every month. What a great turnaround for Iris and Rosie both!

If you or someone you know has fallen into hard times and could use some support bridging the gap back to stability, please call Bridges of Hope at 218.825.7682, or learn more about our services here.

Andrew’s Moment

Andrew, a single father, had been unemployed for about four months, and the utility bills had begun to pile up. He connected with Bridges of Hope after his church had assisted him several times with food and his rent. The social ministry worker at Andrew’s church made the first phone call to Bridges, concerned that they would no longer be able to support Andrew financially, and our staff explained our Financial Resources Program, recommending that Andrew call right away.

Church SteepleWe also talked with the social ministry worker about how Bridges was created to assist churches when someone contacts them with  a financial crisis, since Bridges of Hope specializes in knowing about all of the local community resources and how to access them. They were relieved to learn that churches can refer both parishoners and non-parishioners to Bridges of Hope, since our role in the community is to assist with exactly these kinds of scenarios. Churches can even stay connected with Bridges about the outcome of the situation (if we have obtained a Release of Information from the person to share their information).

Andrew called that same day, and during his initial conversation with our staff, he indicated he was also out of food for his 8-year-old son’s beloved cat. We connected Andrew to an animal Food Shelf that provided him with a small supply of pet food while we worked with Andrew on his other concerns.

During that first conversation, the Bridges of Hope staff quickly realized there were a few complex pieces to Andrew’s financial puzzle, so she scheduled a meeting to sit down with Andrew and thoroughly explore his current financial situation. In particular, Andrew disclosed that a disability was causing a major barrier to his re-employment. Because he was under 200% of the federal poverty guideline, Andrew was eligible for several assistance programs, but both he and his church had been unaware of their existence prior to connecting with Bridges of Hope.

After that, we helped Andrew connect with Lutheran Social Service‘s Energy Assistance program for help with his utility bills and with County Income Maintenance for food support. We also helped Andrew access the Salvation Army food shelf and AngelFood Ministries for additional food resources while his applications were processing and connected him with the Disability Linkage Line for further support with his ongoing barrier to employment.

It was clear that it might take Andrew some time before he was able to return to work, so the Bridges staff recommended that Andrew look at moving to a lower-cost apartment, which would allow him to pay for all of his household needs on an ongoing basis. Andrew was provided with information about subsidized housing and was connected to the key person who could expedite his application, given some of the specific circumstances of Andrew’s situation.

Since then, Andrew has moved into a subsidized apartment with his son and has been able to maintain his bills. During a follow-up call to see how things were going, Andrew stated, “I can’t thank you enough. I felt like I was going nowhere with no real solutions. But you knew exactly what I needed and connected me to the right people. I’m going to pray tonight that God blesses you!”

If you or someone you know is struggling financially, contact Bridges of Hope for assistance finding and navigating the resources in the Lakes Area. If you are a local church wondering about how you and Bridges can work together to better serve families in our community, contact Jana Shogren, our Executive Director at 218.825.7682.

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Photo by Bill Longshaw

Michelle’s Moment

Michelle calls Joshua her miracle baby. After a devastating car accident two years ago that had also left Michelle unable to work, doctors had said it just was not possible for her to have children. But Joshua’s arrival last winter proved them all wrong.

Stroller

Though unable to work, the new mom actively volunteered at a local ministry program through her church. Michelle owned a van specially equipped for her disability, but various maintenance needs had gone unrepaired until the van was finally not driveable–Michelle’s disability income simply would not stretch far enough. To continue to attend her regular monthly appointments and volunteering, Michelle had been using public transportation whenever she could and was simply taking Joshua out in a stroller the rest of the time.

As the days became cooler and she battled a recurring bout of bronchitis, Michelle knew it was finally time to ask for help. Michelle went to her church first, and because they give to the Spirit of Kindness Fund,* the social ministry leader called Bridges of Hope. The van was in need of several different repairs, and Bridges of Hope was able to partner with the Salvation Army for most of them. In the meantime, Michelle’s church had a connection to a local mechanic who offered a free estimate and who even donated a tank of gas to Michelle. Michelle also took responsibility for what she could by working out a payment plan with a local business to pay for one of the specialized repairs. Because local resources came together to support Michelle and Joshua, they now have a working van, ready just in time for winter.

Click here to support families like Michelle & Joshua this season.

*Spirit of Kindness is a collaborative benevolent fund administered by Bridges of Hope. Many area churches donate to the fund, and any church can refer someone in crisis to Bridges of Hope for intake, screening and referrals. When local resources are exhausted, Bridges of Hope can utilize the funds to assist the family.