Utility assistance available for households behind on power bills

A tsunami of utility shutoffs is expected across the country, as millions of households have fallen behind on utility bills amid higher prices and the heatwave.

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20 million households nationwide are behind on utility bills, by an average of $792, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association.

"The natural gas price has tripled, pretty much," said Britany Devlin, Chief Technology Officer for Energy Ogre, driving up electricity prices.

RELATED: Texas Utility Help can help low-income Texans pay utility bills

Devlin says natural gas prices just came down a little, but don't expect huge relief.  They're usually high in Winter and drop in the Spring. And a September to March routine increase to variable delivery charges means about $5 to $12 more on your bill more a month.

"It's the maintenance required with maintaining poles, answering emergency issues. It's basically a forecast of what they think they'll need," explained Devlin.

Utility assistance is available.  Many energy providers offer payment deferrals, or programs such as CARE, the Community Assistance by Reliant Energy.

Entergy Texas just announced customers can apply for $150 credits if they're below 250% of the federal poverty level.  That's $69,000 dollars for a family of four. Customers can apply here once the opening date is announced.   

Plus Entergy Texas says it is sending funds to the Power to Choose, Beat the Heat, and Low Income Energy Assistance Program.  

Houstonians can also seek help by calling the 211 United Way Helpline, BakerRipley's Utility Assistance, and TDHCA's Comprehensive Energy Assistance Program.

However, the Texas Utility Help program, which launched in July, is no longer taking applications due to overwhelming demand. 

President Biden's new Inflation Reduction Act offers tax credits that can knock up to 30% off the cost of new energy-efficient air conditioners, water heaters, furnaces, windows, doors, and insulation. Replacing older versions can help cut home energy bills by hundreds of dollars a year.

MORE: Inflation Reduction Act includes credits for consumers who invest in renewable, energy-efficient products

Devlin says it can also be worth it to pay a break fee to switch energy providers when rates drop. Energy Ogre and other subscription services alert customers when lower-priced plans are available.

"We just saw the prices go down. Pay the fee, and you'll actually end up saving money in the long run," said Devlin.  


And she says to take advantage of the kids being back to school.

"If nobody is in the house, I would crank your A/C temperature up a bit, make sure the blinds are closed, unplug your appliances," said Devlin.