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Your View: Pennsylvanians can get help paying heating, other utility bills

Smoke billows from a chimney in Emmaus. Pennsylvania homeowners and renters who are having trouble paying their energy bills can still financial assistance and help with weatherizing their homes and apartments. April Gamiz / 첥Ƶ
Smoke billows from a chimney in Emmaus. Pennsylvania homeowners and renters who are having trouble paying their energy bills can still financial assistance and help with weatherizing their homes and apartments. April Gamiz / 첥Ƶ
Nicole W. Luciano is the director of policy for the Energy Association of Pennsylvania, a trade association that represents and promotes the interests of regulated electric and natural gas distribution companies in Pennsylvania. (Contributed photo)

As we begin to thaw out from the cold winter months, Pennsylvania homeowners and renters who are having trouble paying their energy bills can still seek financial assistance and help with weatherizing their homes and apartments. There are programs available year-round for all income levels with additional assistance targeted at low-income households.

One notable and tremendously successful program, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, is made possible through a partnership between utilities and the state Department of Human Services.  This year’s program is slated to be open through April 5 and provides cash assistance to low-income households who may need help with their energy bills.

Payment is sent directly to the utility company or fuel provider to be credited on the customer’s bill. These grants range from $300 to $1,000 and are based on household size, income and fuel type.

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services website provides a LIHEAP application and tips for staying warm, as well as valuable information on other state-funded assistance programs, at .

While LIHEAP is the best-known program, there are other very effective ones Pennsylvania utilities offer. In fact, Pennsylvania is one of the most consumer-friendly states in the nation. The commonwealth stands second only to California in its utility-administered energy assistance programs, which provide over $560 million in assistance to customers every year through their individual companies.

This assistance is targeted toward individuals and families with low incomes who need help catching up on past-due bills, experience a one-time financial hardship or qualify for free weatherization work to their homes to improve energy efficiency and comfort. For all income levels, utilities offer interest-free payment arrangements to catch up on past-due amounts.

All Pennsylvania households are also protected by comprehensive regulations governing the utility collections process that ensure low-income households cannot lose their heat between Dec. 1 and March 31 each year.

While many neighboring states only require a single notice before termination, Pennsylvania’s regulations require more contact with customers, including a 10-day notice, a three-day notice and an attempt by the utility to make personal contact. A shut off can be delayed to allow for the PUC to review any disputes between the customer and the utility, and those with serious medical conditions can also request continuation of necessary utility service.

It’s important for Pennsylvanians to understand and explore these options with their utilities before they fall behind. Thanks to Pennsylvania’s well-funded assistance programs and protections, struggling households have options. Programs are available year-round, including the ability to utilize “budget billing,” which spreads out seasonal high and low usage periods to a fixed amount every month.

To find more information, Pennsylvania residents can contact their utility provider directly and find information on their websites. Utilities provide a wealth of information on programs and services. If you need assistance finding contact information, the Energy Association of Pennsylvania’s “Be Energy Wise” webpage () provides a list of Pennsylvania utilities and other helpful information.

Pennsylvania has truly become a national model for how states can help vulnerable citizens afford their energy needs and provide them with peace of mind. Utility companies are waiting and ready to help.

Nicole W. Luciano is the director of policy for the Energy Association of Pennsylvania, a trade association that represents and promotes the interests of regulated electric and natural gas distribution companies in Pennsylvania. 

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