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Help available for winter energy bills

Households in Turlock will be able to stay warm this holiday season even if their energy bill is too expensive thanks to increased federal aid for low-income families. 

Congressman Josh Harder announced last week that more than $179 million is available to help families both locally and throughout the state pay their energy bills this winter through the Department of Health and Human Services’ Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The funding is expected to help more than five million households this season and for Turlock families, aid is distributed through the Central Valley Opportunity Center, Inc. in Ceres. 

“Everyone in our Valley — kids and seniors especially — need the heat on to keep them healthy and safe during the winter. This program is going to make sure nobody has to choose between heating their home and paying for their groceries as the weather turns cold,” Harder said. “With prices rising across the board right now, Valley families need all the help they can get. If you’re worried about paying your bills right now, you should reach out to your local office today.”

Constance Anderson, Communications Division Manager at Turlock Irrigation District, said the irrigation water and power utility has frequently connected customers to LIHEAP funding both prior to and throughout the pandemic. Anderson said this additional funding for the program will directly help those in the area, many of whom have been impacted by COVID-19 and have struggled to pay bills. 

“It’s important to recognize that business customers and residential customers have been affected by the pandemic, and that TID customers have been impacted in different ways,” Anderson said. “It is always TID’s goal to work with all customers, advocate for them and identify solutions.”

As inflation hits home, surging worldwide prices for heating oil, natural gas and other fuels are expected to cause as much as a 54% jump in prices for Americans keeping their homes warm this winter, according to a forecast from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. 

The report states that homes using natural gas for heat could expect to pay 30% more in bills this winter, while those utilizing electricity to warm their homes, or 41% of the country, will only experience a modest 6% increase. 

TID works to connect customers to a number of programs, like LIHEAP, to help with the cost of bills, many of which have received additional State and Federal funding during the pandemic.

In addition to helping customers utilize this money, TID also suspended late fees and disconnection for non-payment for a year during the height of the pandemic, informed customers with past due balances of available aid programs, worked via telephone with customers on payment arrangements and plans, and the organization continues to connect customers to a number of community assistance programs.

“It is our hope to assist past due customers in paying down their balances before the winter months when it gets dark earlier and customers may depend on electricity to keep warm,” Anderson said. 

Families in need of assistance should call the National Energy Assistance Referral (NEAR) hotline toll-free at: 1-866-674-6327 or contact their county specific office. In Stanislaus County, those in need can contact the Central Valley Opportunity Center, Inc. at 6838 Bricket Court in Ceres, or call them at 209-537-9217.