Mass Attorney General Healey partners with Project Bread & Food Banks to help residents with energy costs

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In full disclosure, the following is a press release from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office submitted to SOURCE media. (file photo)

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BOSTON — As gas and electric rates soar to record highs this winter, Attorney General Maura Healey is working with Project Bread and the state’s regional food banks and pantries on a campaign aimed at informing residents about the assistance available to help them pay their monthly energy bills this winter. .

“As energy costs rise this winter, we want to make sure families know help is there to put food on the table and keep the lights on in their homes,” said AG Healey. . “We are grateful to Project Bread and our regional food banks and pantries for partnering with us to educate residents on how they can access the financial assistance and support they need.

As part of the education outreach campaign, the AG office works with Project Bread and regional food banks across the state – the Greater Boston Food Bank, Worcester County Food Bank, Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and the Merrimack Valley Food Bank – and their partner food pantries to inform customers about new winter rates and available energy assistance programs.

The campaign includes the distribution of thousands of multilingual leaflets And one updated website with resources on how to save on monthly bills.

On Tuesday, staff from the GA office joined volunteers and staff from La Colaborativa in Chelsea to distribute resource leaflets in English, Spanish, and Portuguese to families picking up boxes of food before Thanksgiving.

In September 2022, according to Bread Project, a statewide organization committed to solving hunger, more than one-fifth of households with children in Massachusetts faced food insecurity, rising costs of basic necessities like food and public services likely contributing to the rising rate of hunger in the state. According to data from state utility companies, more than 900,000 Massachusetts customers are behind on their energy bills.

“The winter months can be especially tough for the 21.5 percent of households with children in Massachusetts who experience food insecurity,” said Erin McAleer, president and CEO of Project Bread. “Food insecurity is an economic condition and rising utility costs mean less grocery money for these families. We appreciate the opportunity to partner with Attorney General Healey’s office in this campaign to raise awareness of energy aid and year-round awareness of food resources.

“This winter, heating costs are expected to rise and put a real squeeze on household budgets,” said Catherine D’Amato, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Food Bank. “It’s only November and we’re already seeing an increase in new customers visiting our pantry partners, so we’re pleased to partner with the Attorney General and his team to help raise awareness of new and who are available to help our neighbors through the difficult winter months.

“People shouldn’t have to make the difficult choice between having enough food to eat or enough heat to heat their homes during the winter months,” said Jean McMurray, CEO of the Worcester County Food Bank (WCFB). “WCFB and its Pantry Network appreciate partnering with the Attorney General’s Office to provide critical resources to help our neighbors pay their energy bills this winter.”

“At the Western Massachusetts Food Bank, we know that high housing, utility and food costs create real challenges for families struggling to meet their basic needs,” said Christina Maxwell. , director of programs at the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. “We are pleased to partner with the Attorney General’s Office to provide information and resources that may be helpful to people, especially during a New England winter.”

“Rising prices for essentials like food and utilities are making this winter especially difficult for our families,” said Debbie Callery, chief executive of the Merrimack Valley Food Bank. “The Merrimack Valley Food Bank and our partner food pantries are pleased to partner with the Attorney General’s Office to connect our neighbors with resources to help pay their energy bills this winter.”

As an advocate for Massachusetts ratepayers, AG Healey’s Energy and Telecommunications Division works to ensure reasonable prices, access to clean energy for all customers, and to educate customers about available programs that will help them keep the lights on and stay warm.

The GA office reminds residents of the following resources as part of this education campaign:

Moratorium on winter closure

Residential customers are protected against having their gas or electric service cut off from November 15, 2022 to March 15, 2023 if service is needed for heating. You can find more information about shutdown protections available to eligible Massachusetts residents. here.

However, customers will still be responsible for paying bills after the winter moratorium ends and making no payments during the four month period means a bigger bill to pay later.

To avoid getting into debt, the AG office is urging customers to sign up for a payment plan that will provide termination protection and potentially a balance forgiveness.

Utility Payment Plans

Massachusetts utility companies offer several financial assistance programs to customers. The AG office encourages customers who are having difficulty paying their monthly bills to contact their utility as soon as possible to learn more about the options available. Customers should also consider signing up for budget billing with their utility, which will establish more predictable payments and can help customers better manage utility costs that often fluctuate with season, price energy and customer usage.

Eligible income assistance programs

The AG’s office encourages customers experiencing financial hardship to consult with their utility company to see if they qualify for a revenue-eligible rate, which provides a discount on the customer’s total bill. Income-eligible customers may also be eligible to enroll in a balance discount program. In addition, income-eligible customers can benefit from the Home Energy Assistance Program for Low-Income Households (LIHEAP). In order to qualify for LIHEAP and other qualifying income assistance programsclients must have a household income that does not exceed 60% of the state median income.

Applications for LIHEAP for the 2022-2023 heating season can be submitted now and throughout the winter. For assistance in determining their eligibility for these programs and for more information on how to apply, clients should contact their Community Action Network. Customers can also contact the Cold Relief hotline at (800) 632-8175.

Clients whose household income is between 60 and 80 percent of the state median income can apply for assistance at Good Neighbor Energy Fund.

Beneficiaries of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food assistance benefits may also qualify for utility discounts and should contact their utility company to inquire about enrollment.

Energy efficiency audit

The AG office recommends that customers contact Mass Backup for an energy efficiency audit to see how they can reduce their overall energy consumption. Customers can also lower their bills by installing a programmable thermostat and replacing outdated light bulbs with ENERGY STAR certified bulbs. Customers interested in reducing energy use through solar panels or community solar programs can view AG’s FAQs at www.mass.gov/ago/solar.

Beware of competing suppliers

The AG office is urging customers to beware of misleading competing electricity providers who may try to take advantage of this winter’s record tariffs with false promises of savings.

A report published by the AG office in April 2021 showed that customers in Massachusetts who received their electricity from competitive suppliers were charged $426 million more on their bills than if they had stayed with their utility.

More information on electricity prices and available assistance programs can be found on the new resource flyer which is currently available in Spanish, Portuguese and Mandarin and will soon be available in Haitian Creole, Cape Verdean Creole and Vietnamese. The flyers will also be provided to community organizations, including Massachusetts consumer advocates, municipal associations, and nonprofit service organizations. Customers with concerns about their use rights should contact AG’s Consumer Assistance Hotline at 617-727-8400 or file a online complaint.

Anyone having difficulty paying for their food is encouraged to call Project Bread’s FoodSource toll-free hotline at 1-800-645-8333, which provides confidential assistance with connecting to food resources, including SNAP benefits. , in 180 languages ​​and for the hearing impaired. .

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