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Utility assistance programs offer relief as home heating costs surge

CenterPoint Energy said its customers could expect to pay about $40 more a month and Citizens Energy Group customers could pay about $10 more a month.

INDIANAPOLIS — If you've looked at your heating bill lately, odds are it's a little higher than usual and not just because winter is on the way. The rising fuel prices and demand mean families are paying more this season to heat their homes.  

Experts estimate homes using natural gas will pay about 30% more this winter. While homes with electric heating will cost 6% more to keep warm. 

RELATED: Gas companies warn of spike in bills this winter season

If you're among the homes struggling with higher energy costs, there are programs to help you offset the hefty price.  

“We know that the utility costs are increasing, and that burden is put on our neighbors,” said Lydia Watson, community impact manager at United Way of Central Indiana

United Way of Central Indiana is once again launching its Winter Assistance Fund to help struggling Hoosiers in Marion County who don’t qualify for other programs and don’t exceed 225% of the federal poverty guideline. 

“United Way is trying to find those individuals that do not qualify for the federal assistance, but they terribly need help with their utility bills. So, that’s where we plugin and help them the best way that we can,” Watson said.  

Last year, the program helped 236 Hoosiers in 115 homes. This season, they expect even more Indianapolis residents to need help.   

“I could easily see that jumping or increasing by 15 to 20 percent, easily,” Watson said.   

The federal program is also expecting a surge in applications. Last week, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) received a large financial boost from the government.  

The Biden administration plans to use part of its COVID-19 relief bill to deploy $4.5 billion to families in need. Usually, the program receives $3 billion to $4 billion annually. 

The administration is additionally asking providers to protect customers and avoid shutoffs by using available federal resources. 

RELATED: White House offering more aid for winter heat, utility bills

Utility companies are also prepared for the increase. CenterPoint Energy previously said its customers could pay an average of $130 a month through March, which is about a $40 increase. The average cost is around $88.      

Citizens Energy Group said its customers will only see about a $10 increase in their bills.  

RELATED: How to lower heating bills this winter as natural gas prices soar

If you need help paying your bills this winter, you can also contact your providers to learn more about their payment plans or call 211. 

United Way’s Winter Assistance Fund runs from December until May and is supported by AES, Citizens Energy Group, the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust and individual donors. Hoosiers can donate to the fund here

Applications for assistance are being accepted starting Dec. 1.