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If you’re like thousands of individuals and families around the country, you’re probably wondering how to get emergency help with utility bills. Unfortunately, there’s no magic wand that will make your utility bills disappear. However, there are programs to help pay electric bills, as well as various resources that you can look to for help.
I can’t pay my electric bill. What happens next?
If you can’t pay your electric bill, there are a few different routes you can take. First and foremost, don’t panic. Electricity bills are usually issued approximately three weeks after the meter has been read. At that point, you will likely have 30 days before the amount is due in full. If you miss the due date, the timeline will vary based on your location.
In some states, utility providers cannot shut off your electricity during extremely hot or cold months. However, this doesn’t apply in states with more temperate climates. On average, you can expect to receive notice of a failure to pay within a few days of the deadline. Once you receive that notice, you have anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to pay the outstanding balance before your electricity is cut off.
Unpaid water bills generally work the same way. However, most states require water providers to give you at least 10-days notice before cutting off your water. This should give you a little bit of extra time to collect the funds.
I need help paying my electric bill
Even if you can’t make the payment by the due date, you can still contact various programs for help. Here’s a breakdown of your best options to get emergency help with utility bills:
Community Action Council
As we’ve mentioned in previous guides, the best place to start for utility bill help is your local Community Action Council or Agency. These groups work under the umbrella of the Community Action Program (CAP), which has been helping low-income families pay their bills since 1964. If you’re willing to provide enough paperwork, you can get the Community Action Council to provide you with one or more power bill pledges. A pledge from the local CAC could pay for some or all of your utility bill — at absolutely no cost to you!
Veteran’s Relief Fund
If you don’t qualify for a power bill pledge, you still have options to get emergency help with utility bills. If you’re a veteran (or the direct family member of a veteran), you should seriously consider contacting the Veteran’s Relief Fund. They can provide pledges through your local CAC or offer unique assistance plans to help with your unpaid bills. Emergency veteran’s benefits have even been expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
If you’re looking for utility disconnection help or looking for more programs to help pay electric bills, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is one of the best places to look. This state- and federally-funded program helps low-income families pay for basic necessities like food, housing, home energy (i.e. utilities), child care, and even job training. These benefits are commonly referred to as “welfare” and are great for people who need help paying utility bills and are also looking for organizations that help with rent. You can learn more about the requirements and application process for welfare right here.
Lifeline is a federal program run by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It is specifically designed to help low-income families pay their phone bills. So, even though this route won’t help you get emergency help with utility bills, it could help reduce your monthly utility costs. Check out the FCC website to see if you qualify.
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program
When you’re trying to figure out how to get emergency help with utility bills, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is one of the best government programs around. Not only does it target people who need assistance with heating and/or cooling bills, but it offers emergency utility disconnection help to get your power back on as soon as possible. As an added bonus, LIHEAP can even help you fund energy-efficient improvements for your home to reduce your carbon footprint and save money at the same time!
You know how you dial 9-1-1 in the event of a major emergency, right? Well, did you know that 2-1-1 works the same way for utility emergencies? That’s right, if you dial 2-1-1, you will automatically be redirected to programs and organizations in your area to help you get your lights, heat, A/C, or water back on. If you’ve exhausted some of the channels we’ve already mentioned, you might be redirected to the local chapter of a charitable organization. Some charitable organizations that can help pay your utility bills include:
- Salvation Army
- Love Inc.
- Lutheran Social Ministry
- Vincent De Paul Society
- Jewish Federation of North America
- Urban League
Your Utility Provider
Finally, it seems like the last place you would look for help is the company sending you a bill, but you’d be surprised how much a quick phone conversation could improve your situation. While your utility provider certainly will not foot the bill for your energy costs, they might be willing to work with you if you explain your financial situation. Many utility providers offer payment plans. Though this route will accumulate interest and you’ll end up paying more in the long run, it will also greatly reduce your immediate costs.
The Bottom Line
Can someone help me pay my bills? It’s a question that millions of people ask on a daily basis, but sometimes it just feels like shouting into the void. Fortunately, there are various ways to get emergency help with your utility bills. Dozens of state and private organizations are designed to provide utility bill assistance for low-income families. Additionally, most of the methods in this guide do not require you to take out expensive loans or rack up credit card debt. Instead, you just have to contact the right people, fill out the right paperwork, and get the money you need!
If you’re looking for even more guidance related to emergency help with utility bills, be sure to check out our guide on power bill pledges!