The White House announced on Thursday that it’s offering several billion dollars in aid for winter heating and utility bills, and calling on power companies to avoid shutting off service to needy Americans over the coming months.

The move is intended to avoid “devastating” utility terminations and takes the aid funds from the American Rescue Plan, which was passed early this year.

The plan makes available several programs that state and local utility companies can use to help needy customers.

“States and localities have the flexibility to use Fiscal Recovery Funds to help deliver energy relief to families, including for middle-class households that may not be eligible for programs directed to the lowest income consumers,” the White House said in a statement.

“The White House also calls on utility companies that receive public dollars to prevent devastating utility shut-offs this winter and help expedite the delivery of unprecedented federal aid.”

Officials said, for example, the pandemic-era Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program has up to $4 billion available to help several million U.S. households and the Emergency Rental Assistance program has $21.5 billion to help renters.

The White House said utilities must be proactive in using the programs so those who need help this winter can receive it. The Treasury Department will assist in identifying people eligible for available programs.

“Utilities and energy providers should inform customers of energy assistance programs, screen customers for benefits eligibility, and facilitate referrals to available benefits programs prior to any shut-offs,” the White House added.

“Energy providers should be critical partners by proactively working to establish the processes and data-sharing relationships needed to speed benefits to their eligible customers as quickly as possible.”

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