MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Utility companies were barred from disconnecting service over unpaid bills during the pandemic. But that ended in May.

And next month, families will need to pay their outstanding bills.

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Right now, 340,000 Minnesota households have past-due electric and gas bills. Together, they owe about $140 million. But a new infusion of $167 million to the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s energy assistance program will help pay those debts, according to program director Michael Schmitz.

“If you have a family of four and your annual income is less than $65,000, then you would likely be eligible for the program,” Schmitz said.

The program could put up to $1,600 towards your bills, and an additional $1,200 to cover amounts past due or other emergencies.

It’s not just help with your bills. Some recipients of energy bill assistance will also be eligible for sister programs that will weatherize your house and fix or replace your furnace. And there are also programs that are starting to put solar panels on homes to lower costs and make homes more efficient.

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(credit: CBS)

“That’s something that they’re in the process of expanding so more people that ever would be eligible for that,” Schmitz said. “A lot of the time people think that programs like this aren’t for them.”

But Schmitz says spending too much income on energy bills is a big problem in Minnesota.

“What we’d like to see is people spending less than 5% of their annual income on their home energy,” Schmitz said.

So if you need an extra boost, or know someone else who might, organizers say please apply or help someone else apply.

“People might have a neighbor, they might have a family member, an acquaintance that’s struggling right now,” Schmitz said. “What we’re hoping is we reach more people.”

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You can apply by phone or online. Renters can also do it. Click here for more information on eligibility, and to find the application.

Erin Hassanzadeh