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Discounts on Utilities for People with Low Income

 

Can I get a discount on my utilities?

If you receive electric or gas from a utility company that is regulated and you qualify financially, you are eligible for a discount on your utility bill. Local telephone companies also offer discounts (called “Lifeline” and “Linkup”) to customers who qualify financially.

What is a "regulated” gas and electric company?

In Massachusetts, investor-owned electric and gas companies are regulated by the state. By law they must offer low-income people discounts. Regulated companies include:

  • New England Gas
  • NSTAR Electric and NSTAR Gas (was Boston Edison Company, Cambridge Electric, COMElectric, COMGas),

If you get your electricity or gas from a municipal gas or electric department, a company that has the name of your city or town in its name (like Holyoke Gas and Electric,) these utilities do not have to offer low-income discount rates. (Belmont Municipal Light Department, however, voluntarily offers low-income discounts.) 

How much is the discount for gas and electricity?

The amount of the electric and gas discounts varies widely, but ranges from 10% to 25% of the bill.

How much is the discount for telephone service?

Most people still use Verizon for their local wireline service. Its Lifeline program provides a discount of up to $18.39 per month off the regular bill ($220.68 per year). This Verizon discount applies to local telephone service. It may not apply if you have more than one line or if you have other services. Also, it does not apply to long distance, cellular phones, or cable service.

See LifelineSupport for more information about the Lifeline program. Currently in Massachusetts, Verizon, RCN, Grandy Telephone Company, Richmond Telephone, and Taconic Telephone companies offer the Lifeline discount through their landline or wireless services.

SafeLink and Assurance Wireless have a free phone and minutes for low income individuals who receive certain government benefits. See Free Cell Phone and Minutes.

Am I eligible for a discount for gas or electricity service?

To be eligible for electric and gas discounts, you need to receive fuel assistance (LIHEAP) or other assistance under a government program that serves low-income households. You are eligible if your income is below 60% of Estimated State Median Income for the size of your household. Here is a chart with guidelines for 2013-2014.

Household Size: 60% of Estimated State Median Income
  1. $32,065
  2. $41,932
  3. $51,798
  4. $61,664
  5. $71,530
  6. $81,396
For each additional family member see the LIHEAP Clearinghouse. Updated Nov. 2013

Am I eligible for a discount for telephone service?

In terms of telephone service, you may be eligible for a Lifeline discount if you receive one of the following:

  • TAFDC (Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children),
  • EAEDC (Emergency Assistance to Elderly, Disabled and Children),
  • SSI (Supplemental Security Income),
  • SNAP/Food Stamps,
  • Fuel Assistance (also called LIHEAP), or
  • Medicaid/MassHealth.

Lifelinesupport has more information. You can call your local telephone company to determine eligibility, or call the Department of Telecommunications and Cable with questions at (800) 392-6066.

How do I apply?

It's fairly easy to apply. If you receive fuel assistance, the community action program or agency that handles your fuel assistance application will usually contact the utility for you, or will help you apply.

Whether or not you get fuel assistance, call your gas, electric or phone company to see if you're on the discount rate. If not, ask for an application. You'll need to fill out a separate application for each company, for example: one for Verizon, one for Boston Gas, and one for NSTAR Electric.

Can people get enrolled automatically?

Yes. If you get fuel assistance, the fuel assistance agency often tells the utility or telephone company that you are receiving fuel assistance and are eligible for the discount rate. But this does not always happen. So, you should call the company to find out whether you are receiving the discount.

  • For telephone service, ask whether you are on the Lifeline rate.
  • For electric and gas, most companies called their discount rates the "R 2" rate or the "R 4" rate. Ask if you're on the discount rate.

Also, the state of Massachusetts now enrolls more people automatically, especially people who receive TAFDC, EAEDC, SNAP/Food Stamps and some other programs the state administers.

If you are on one of the government programs that cooperates with automatic enrollment, you will not need to do anything to get automatically enrolled, other than signing your name on the government assistance application (for example, the application for TAFDC or SNAP/Food Stamps) and giving the state permission to tell your utility company you are income eligible for the discount rates.

Where can I get application forms?

If you are not automatically enrolled for a discount, you can contact the company or download them if your utility company is:

What if I still have more questions?

You can contact your local utility. The utility company lists a customer service number on every bill.

You can also contact the Department of Public Utilities (DPU), the state agency that regulates electric, gas and other utilities. You can reach the DPU's Consumer Division at (617) 737-2836 or (877) 886-5066 (toll free).

You can also contact the Department of Telecommunications and Energy (DTE), the state agency that regulates telephone companies. Contact the DTE's Consumer Division at 617-305-3531 or 800-392-6066.


Produced by National Consumer Law Center and Mass Law Reform Institute
Last updated November, 2009


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