LOS ANGELES, Feb. 1, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) is alerting customers that they may experience higher-than-expected natural gas bills this winter due to the unusually cold weather and increased use of home heaters to stay warm. The utility is encouraging increased awareness of energy usage and offering resources to help customers manage natural gas costs and find assistance paying bills. "While natural gas prices remain low and supplies plentiful, our customers may be surprised at the higher bills. Customers tend to use up to three times more natural gas in the winter than summer due to home heating," said Rodger Schwecke, vice president of customer solutions for SoCalGas. "We offer online resources to help our customers monitor and manage their natural gas usage and costs." SoCalGas also offers a number of customer assistance programs designed to help income-qualified residents pay natural gas bills, reduce energy usage and increase the home's energy efficiency. These include the California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE) program, the Gas Assistance Fund, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance program (LIHEAP), the Medical Baseline Allowance and the Energy Savings Assistance Program. SoCalGas encourages customers to visit its website for information, qualification criteria and enrollment details for all SoCalGas assistance programs. In addition, any SoCalGas customer can enroll in the My Account program at http://www.socalgas.com/my-account. Once enrolled, they can easily access gas usage information, pay bills, schedule service orders and access other online services. Through the California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE) Program, eligible households receive a 20-percent rate discount on their monthly gas bill. Also, the Gas Assistance Fund (GAF) may be able to provide customers with a one-time grant for the amount of the gas bill, not exceeding $100. The GAF program is in effect between February and May 2013, or until funds are depleted. SoCalGas' Medical Baseline Allowance offers an additional allowance of natural gas at a lower rate to qualified households where a member has a life-threatening illness, is seriously disabled, or requires more heat in winter due to a serious health condition. The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) can help income-qualified customers pay their utility bill. SoCalGas' Energy Savings Assistance Program offers no-cost, energy-saving home improvements for income-qualified renters and homeowners. SoCalGas also recognizes that customers face various hardships and encourages those who may be having difficulty paying their natural gas bills to contact SoCalGas to ask about payment arrangements or to find out if they qualify for other bill-assistance programs. Customers can request payment arrangements online or call SoCalGas at (800) 427-2200 and should have their account number handy for faster service.