The state of Pennsylvania understands that some residents may struggle to cover their utility expenses. When the temperatures drop and heating costs rise in the winter, heating bills can be a problem. In response, officials recently decided to expand assistance to help even more families in need.
Residential Utility Assistance Programs
The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) was created to provide assistance to families with difficulty paying their heating bills. Through this program, low-income households can apply for a cash grant to be sent directly to the utility or fuel company. It was designed to help local families – both homeowners and renters – keep warm and safe throughout the winter.
According to the Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller, LIHEAP currently helps more than 328,000 households in Pennsylvania. For the 2018-2019 season, the program covered $90,879,764 in energy expenses. Additionally, it offered $53,353,453 in crisis benefits for those at risk of having the utilities cut off or in need of furnace repairs or replacement.
Who Can Receive Assistance?
Programs, like LIHEAP, aid some of the commonwealth’s most vulnerable citizens – children, elderly residents, and individuals with disabilities. These “utility-run assistance programs are life-savers for hundreds-of-thousands of families every winter,” explains Public Utility Commission Chairman Gladys Brown Dutrieuille.
Pennsylvania residents must apply and meet certain financial guidelines to be approved to receive this public assistance. The grants vary in amount – from $200 to $1,000 – depending on the number of family members, income, and energy type. The payment is credited towards the utility bill and is not a loan, therefore it does not need to be repaid.
Applications will still be accepted for this season through April 10, 2020. You can find the application online at or benefits online using COMPASS, the online tool for Pennsylvanians to apply for health and human service programs and manage the benefits available. You can also get more information at your local county assistance office.
How Utility Assistance Will Be Expanded
Another effort is in the works to help lower utility costs for struggling families. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC), voted a few months ago to expand financial assistance for hundreds of thousands of residents. The new policy is expected to go into effect by January 1st of 2021.
PUC has proposed recalculating the highest amount of the household income which must go towards energy costs. Families earning less than 150% of the federal poverty level should be required to put a maximum of 10% of their income towards gas, water, and electricity. This would be a decrease from the previous rate of 17% set in 1992. Currently, in Pennsylvania, the federal poverty level is $25,750 for a household of four people.
In order to help keep even the lowest income families warm throughout the winter season, that rate is likely to be set even lower. For a family of four earning less than $12,875, they should not have to pay more than 6% towards utilities.
This change, driven by the PUC, will help to significantly decrease the burden on families in need and allow them to maintain their services. The expanded subsidies outlined by the new policy would be funded by an increase in rates for other customers. Residents who do not receive assistance from customer assistance programs (CAPs) are expected to pay nearly $15 more per year. For the first time, commercial and industrial utility customers will also participate in funding the CAP.
The commission went even further than what the PUC staff recommended for the most income-disadvantaged households. For customers whose household income is less than half the federal poverty guidelines, or less than for a family of four, the cost of energy would be limited to 6% of household income.
How to Lower Your Heating Bill This Winter
Every homeowner would like to know how to reduce their utility consumption and lower their bills. Here are some quick tips that we can all put into action:
- Lower the temperature on the thermostat. Just a few degrees can make a big difference and most families are comfortable with a temperature around 68°F.
- Use a programmable thermostat. This helps decrease energy use when you’re not home and while you’re sleeping.
- Replace the weather stripping around the windows and doors.
- Lower the temperature on the water heater.
- Insulate the attic.
- Change the HVAC filter regularly.
- Have your HVAC system serviced annually.