Are you having trouble paying your Utility Bills?
Pennsylvania has many energy assistance programs. Find out if you qualify. Most of the information in this article came directly from the Public Utility Commission website (PUC). For more information you can contact GECAC at (814) 459-4581 or the Erie County Assistance Office at (814) 461-2282.
One program you may not know about is the Utility allowance. If you live in federally subsidized housing (Public Housing, Section 8 Voucher, Project based Section 8, Low-income Housing Tax Credit, or Rural Development) a utility allowance is an amount you receive to cover reasonable utility bills. Utilities covered are electricity, gas, heating fuel, water sewer, trash collection and renting a range, microwave, or refrigerator. To qualify you must be responsible for your utilities. If you are living in one of the above mentioned federally subsidized programs and having trouble paying your utilities there may be a problem with your utility allowance and you may be getting overcharged for rent. Your rent plus your utilities costs generally should not be more than 30% of your monthly income. If your utility bills regularly cost more than the utility allowance, the allowance may be too low. When the utility allowance is too low, you are getting overcharged for rent. Housing authorities and landlords must review utility allowances at least once a year. If utility rates have gone up by 10% or more since the last adjustment the housing authority or landlord must raise the allowance immediately. Also, your housing allowance must be adjusted if you or a member of your household has special needs due to a disability. And if you have been prescribed medical equipment that uses gas or electricity you should receive an increased utility allowance. For more information or if you need help with your utility allowance contact the Erie Housing Authority, Your landlord or Northwest Legal Services.
(This information was taken from the National Housing Law Project. (510) 251-9400.)
The Public Utility Commission requires utilities to have programs and protections that help low-income customers to keep their utility service. These programs may help you to pay utility bills or lower the amount of electricity or natural gas you use.
The local electric or natural gas company may call them by different names, but each company has the following programs listed below. Here are some tips to help you stay warm, lower your heating bills, and tell you who to call when you need help.
All residential customers may contact their electric or natural gas company and request budget billing at any time. Each monthly bill will be the same amount. The company may adjust the bill four times a year, up or down, depending on the customer's usage.
Customer Assistance Program (CAP)
CAPs can lower your monthly utility bill. CAPs may also remove the amount you already owe. The different CAP names are shown beside the company names below. The company works with the customer to determine what the customer can pay verses the cost of energy used.
Customer Assistance Referral and Evaluation Program (CARES)
The CARES program helps customers with special needs. CARES may help you find ways to pay your utility bill. For example, special needs are customers who are experiencing family emergencies, divorce, unemployment, or medical emergencies. The goal is to provide support and direction to help customers pay their utility bills.
Low-Income Usage Reduction Program (LIURP)
LIURP helps low-income residential customers lower the amount of electricity or natural gas used each month. Typically, the company may install energy saving features in your home to help reduce bills. For example, smaller bills means your payment covers a greater portion of the bill, or perhaps covers the whole bill.
Utility company hardship funds provide cash assistance to utility customers to help them pay their utility bills. Hardship funds provide assistance grants to customers who "fall through the cracks" of other financial assistance programs, or to those who still have a critical need for assistance after the other resources have been exhausted. The funds make payments directly to companies on behalf of eligible customers.
Customers must meet certain income limits and be payment-troubled to qualify for CAP, CARES, LIURP and Hardship Funds. Payment-troubled usually means customers have made a payment agreement with the company. The chart below shows the income levels customers must meet for CAP. The income levels are slightly higher for LIURP, CARES and Hardship Funds. Customers who meet these limits, should call their local electric or natural gas company for details to see if you qualify. Each company's toll-free number is listed below.
Household Size Monthly Income
1 person $ 1,354
2 persons $ 1,821
3 persons $ 2,289
4 persons $ 2,756
5 persons $ 3,224 The income levels are effective
6 persons $ 3,691 January 23, 2009.
7 persons $ 4,159
8 persons $ 4,626
9 persons $ 5,094
Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
LIHEAP is the federal program that provides financial assistance to needy households for home energy bills. In Pennsylvania, the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) administers the LIHEAP program. The LIHEAP program provides both cash and crisis benefits to low-income households. Cash benefits help low-income customers pay for their home energy needs while crisis payments help meet emergency home energy situations.
Your household income must be within certain limits to qualify. These limits are listed on DPW's website at Energy Assistance - General Information.