With winter officially here Consumer’s Energy is offering help to any who may need assistance staying warm.

A variety of programs and services are available for people needing help with heating bills. Consumer’s Energy is encouraging families, seniors, and others in-need to reach out for help now and not fall behind on energy bills. Anyone looking for help should start by calling 2-1-1.

2-1-1 is a free service that can connect people to local programs that can offer assistance with not only energy bills, but also food, shelter, and clothing needs. The income qualifications for heating bill assistance is set by the state. To be eligible, households must be at 150% of the federal poverty guidelines or below. For a family of 4, that’s about $37,000 or less. Upon meeting qualifications, the agency will work with the customer to get the assistance they need, put a hold on their account if needed, and make the payment to Consumer’s Energy.

Customer assistance expert Whitney Skeans offered some tips to help lower everyone’s energy bills this winter. Keeping the drapes closed when you don’t need the sunlight will help protect against the cold and keep the heat inside. Also, make sure vents hooked up to the furnace aren’t being blocked by furniture, rugs, or pet hair. Changing the furnace filter is a small expense that can help the furnace run more efficiently. Skeans also noted that simply dropping the thermostat a degree or two can make a noticeable difference on the bill.

For additional tips or further information on help keeping the heat on this winter, visit www.ConsumersEnergy.com/assistance. (MK)