Saving on Utilities

Q It seems that utility rates keep rising.
Do utility companies offer senior discounts?

A With record heat in the West and stormy winters in the East, it’s not surprising that many seniors who live on a fixed income have expressed concern about utility rates rising. Electricity, heating oil, propane, even telephone, and, especially in California, water rates, creep up or sometimes jump up and users feel powerless, no pun intended. There are things you can do.

The first step is yours: CONSERVE. Basic energy conservation includes lowering the heat and raising the temperature when using air conditioners, running appliances at off-peak hours, and only doing laundry with full loads, fixing leaks and leaky windows. Unplug electricity “vampires” that suck wattage just by being plugged in, but are seldom used. Switch to low-flow shower heads, which are often provided free of charge from your water company, put a brick in the toilet tank to displace extra water, the list goes on and on. Get creative and see what you can accomplish.

Next, contact your utility companies. Most have programs to lower bills based on limited income or disability, but you have to call and ask them. Program names range from “Bill Assistance” to “Senior Discount” to “Disability Rate Reduction,” so inquire about all programs and how you might qualify. Some utility companies have experimented with offering rate-payers a flat monthly rate based on annual use, divided by 12. This may not represent a discount, but can help predict and control costs.

Ever heard of LIHEAP? It’s the Low Income Household Energy Assistance Program, a federal program administered at the state level (find your local state lineup coordinator using the link at the end of this article). It is part of the Community Services division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, designed to lower utility rates for users who meet certain criteria. No criteria specifically says “seniors,” but if a household is already receiving help from a federal program, like food stamps, that means the household is eligible for other federal assistance, such as LIHEAP. There may be income eligibility as well.

Finally, if you are struggling to pay your utility bills or need resources for your family members, please contact one of our social workers to locate programs in your area.

Office of Community Services, a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Find local state lineup coordinator

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