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Programs help with heating bills

Higher natural gas prices are driving up costs this winter
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Posted at 5:01 PM, Jan 06, 2022

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — It will cost American households an average of 30 percent more to heat their homes this winter. Natural gas prices have steadily increased since October, nearly doubling the market rate last winter according to the US Energy Information Association.

The administration notes that the high demand has led to a 30 percent increase in US natural gas exports compared to 2020. Additionally, a growing number of utility providers have switched from burning coal to burning natural gas to produce electricity. Doing so could have put upward pressure on the natural gas markets.

The rising prices caught the attention of members of Congress. Colorado Senator Michael Bennet and Rep. Jason Crow were among the 108 members who signed a letter on December 20 that was sent to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.

They asked the Secretary whether current funding for the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) would be enough to help Americans afford their heating bills considering the increase in energy costs.

The lawmakers also note that roughly 1 in 6 Americans who are eligible for the program actually receive any benefit from it.

Locally, the LEAP program is administered by Discover Goodwill. Heather Benevidez said that applications for LEAP grew by about 18 percent compared to this same time last year.

"We do have funding available and we are accepting applications until April 30th," she said.

Colorado Springs Utilities customers receive a single bill for all four services, and the LEAP benefit can only be applied to natural gas billing. However, funds that were authorized as part of the federal stimulus bill are also available to help customers who have fallen behind on their water bills.

"It is actually part of the same application customers will fill out for the regular LEAP. It's just an addendum. It's an extra page, I think it's page four of the application," said Natalie Watts, a spokesperson with Colorado Springs Utilities.

Colorado Springs Utilities customers can also apply for bill-pay assistance through Project Cope. That program is funded locally by donations from other utility customers. Colorado Springs Utilities will match up to $500,000 in donations to the program.

However, customers must first apply for LEAP before applying for the Water Arrearage program or Project Cope.

The federally funded Low-income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP) is administered in Colorado Springs by Discover Goodwill. Customers can apply for help paying their heating bills online through the Department of Human Services web page. To apply by phone, call 1-866-HEAT-HELP (1-866-432-8435) or by emailing LEAPHELP@goodwillcolorado.org