State and utility officials are encouraging those who have lost their jobs or will have difficulty paying their bills this winter to apply for heating help, before today's warm temperatures melt away.
Residents in Ohio and Michigan have until the end of this month to apply for the home heating tax credit, a once-a-year payment - based on income - that is directed to a consumer's energy provider to offset winter heating bills.
The federal program, along with the Home Energy Assistance Programs run by the states, is likely to see increased usage this winter because of double-digit unemployment in Michigan and Ohio, despite lower natural gas prices this year.
"This heating season, we're going to see a unique group of people who will be falling behind or asking for assistance on their gas bill that have never had to ask for help before," said Paul Livernois, a spokesman for Michigan Gas Utilities, which services areas of southeast Michigan.
Columbia Gas of Ohio, which serves large areas of northwest Ohio, said a recent study indicated that consumers begin firing up their furnaces as outside temperatures fall between 53 and 65 degrees.
While market forces could affect natural gas prices this winter, so far the cost of natural gas is running about half of what it was at the same time last year.
The Ohio Department of Development, which administers heating assistance programs in the state, had a 2 percent increase - to 393,939 households - last year in the number of consumers who sought help with their winter heating bills.
Contact Larry P. Vellequette at: