CUMBERLAND —  With dangerously cold temperatures gripping the region, Columbia Gas of Maryland is urging customers to use the many payment assistance and energy-efficiency programs available to manage winter heating bills effectively to stay warm and safe.

Columbia Gas offers payment options to customers with limited or low income, customers who are facing special circumstances or those who need to re-establish their gas service.

“While we are pleased to see that natural gas prices continue to remain low and stable, we understand that many of our customers are still struggling with their entire household budgets,” said Columbia Gas of Maryland Manager of Universal Services Deb Davis. “There are several programs and options available to Columbia Gas customers; however, the first step we ask every customer to take is to contact your utility company at the first sign you may have trouble paying your bill. The sooner we hear about an issue or problem, the sooner we can explore assistance options.”

Programs available to Columbia Gas of Maryland customers include the Maryland Energy Assistance Program. Columbia Gas serves as a link to federal energy assistance funds that provide help with residential heating costs. These energy grants do not have to be repaid by the customer. Enrollment guidelines, which are revised each new heating season, are based on household size and income. MEAP applications are accepted year-round. For more information or to apply for MEAP, call Columbia Gas at 800-537-7431. Customers can also contact their local MEAP office to apply.

The Utility Service Protection Program protects families with low incomes from utility cut-offs and allows MEAP-eligible households to enter into a monthly payment program to help stabilize energy bills. MEAP grants are deducted from the estimated annual gas costs, lowering monthly budget payments. For households that are behind in paying their bills, special agreements with Columbia Gas are available to arrange for payment on the balance.

The Columbia Gas of Maryland Heat Share fuel fund provides energy grants to customers with low incomes for use in offsetting arrears or restoring service to terminated accounts. Heat Share funds are only available to customers who have exhausted all other available energy assistance programs.

The Low Income Weatherization Program partners with programs in Allegany, Washington and Garrett counties to repair and replace unsafe heating equipment. The county weatherization program is a free program that first identifies an energy usage snapshot of your home and then takes action to seal up areas of heat loss. This program is offered to customers with low incomes and high gas usage. Columbia Gas of Maryland and the Maryland Office of Weatherization have joined together to provide conservation measures designed to achieve affordable, efficient and safe gas usage.

Available to all Columbia Gas customers, the Budget Payment Plan allows customers to spread gas costs evenly across the year instead of paying account balances each month, helping to eliminate high winter bills. The budget season starts in May, but customers may sign up at any time. To join, call Columbia Gas at 888-460-4332.

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