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With fall officially here, it won’t be long before temperatures start to drop and Hoosiers switch from using air conditioners to furnaces. As many families are still struggling financially from the pandemic, higher energy costs during the cold weather months can exacerbate the situation.

For those needing help, Indiana offers the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Funded through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it provides a one-time annual benefit to residents struggling to pay utility bills. Applications are available online at in.gov/ihcda and remain open through May 14, 2021.

It’s important to note this assistance will not cover all winter energy costs, and there’s a process to determine eligibility for each applicant, so Hoosiers should continue paying what they can on utility bills. Indiana law prohibits utility companies from disconnecting residential services from Dec. 1 to March 15 every year for customers who are eligible for assistance and have applied. Residents should always contact their utility provider if payment must be negotiated to avoid service disconnection.

There are other programs for Hoosiers needing help beyond a one-time payment. Indiana 2-1-1 is a tremendous resource connecting residents to assistance programs close to home. Simply call 2-1-1 any hour of the day or night, seven days a week, to speak confidentially with someone who can find an appropriate resource. The service goes beyond utility assistance to include available programs for everything from food and clothing to mental health. Learn more online at in211.communityos.org.

Any household applying for energy benefits is also eligible for the state’s Weatherization Assistance Program. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, families who update their homes for better protection against the elements save an average of 20% to 30% on annual heating costs, which really adds up over time. Visit the Indiana Community Action Association at incap.org or call 800-382-9895 to find a local agency and determine eligibility.

As energy costs rise with a corresponding drop in temperatures, remember help is available to those who need it most.