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Home Heating Costs Expected to Increase this Winter
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) - the state’s utility regulator - recently issued a Consumer Alert alerting consumers that many energy utilities are adjusting their supply prices as the winter months approach. Pennsylvanians are urged to learn about these changes and explore options to manage their winter utility bills. In anticipating of many residents needing assistance, AARP Pennsylvania created this guide to provide the most up-to-date information and tips to help Pennsylvanians 50+ and their families stay connected, safe, and warm this winter.
Leadership from the PUC and the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) recently gathered to mark the start of the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) for the 2023-24 winter heating season. Pennsylvania homeowners and renters may be eligible for assistance with utility costs.
Below are links to programs that may help you. These include special discounted rates and grants for certain income-eligible customers, ways to reduce your usage such as weatherization or buying more energy-efficient appliances, and much more. In addition, your local utility company - such as PPL, PECO, UGI, Philadelphia Gas Works, etc. – is available to help you manage your energy bills. Everyone’s situation is different, so please weigh the pros and cons of any of these options carefully.
Weatherizing Your Home
Drafty doors and uninsulated pipes may contribute to higher heating bill costs. Weatherization Assistance Programs (WAP) can assist with potentially costly home improvement projects. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) funds weatherproofing projects for low-income households, prioritizing adults 60 and older and those with disabilities. In Pennsylvania, the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development manages the WAP to help residents lower their energy costs by increasing the energy efficiency of their homes while ensuring their health and safety. A PA WAP Fact Sheet is available to help you learn more about participating and applying for the program, and here you can find your local WAP provider agency.
The Home Performance with Energy Star initiative helps households save on annual utility costs by purchasing Energy Star energy-efficient products and appliances.
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
LIHEAP is a federally funded program that helps an estimated 6 million low-income households each year with heating bills. In Pennsylvania, the state Department of Human Services manages LIHEAP. If you need help paying your heating bills or have a heating emergency, LIHEAP may be able to help. Check your eligibility and learn how to apply today. The application period for LIHEAP is November 1, 2023, to April 5, 2024. Find a listing of all LIHEAP assistance agencies by county here. You can also request an application by calling the Statewide LIHEAP Hotline at 1-866-857-7095 or PA Relay at 711 for the hearing impaired.
Low Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP)
Many Pennsylvanians are also currently struggling to pay their water bills. LIHWAP is a new federally funded temporary emergency program to help low-income households pay overdue water bills, avoid shutoffs, and support household water system reconnections related to non-payment. The PA Department of Human Services also manages LIHWAP. Check your eligibility and learn how to apply today. You can also request a LIHWAP application by calling the State Customer Service Center at 877-395-8930 or PA Relay at 711 for the hearing impaired. Applications are also available at your local county assistance office.
Utility Emergency Services Fund
If you live in Philadelphia, visit the Utility Emergency Services Fund website or call 215-972-5170 for information on programs that could help you pay your utility bill.
Dollar Energy Fund
The Dollar Energy Fund is a non-profit organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life for households experiencing hardships by providing utility assistance and other services that lead to self-sufficiency. The Dollar Energy Fund currently administers hardship programs in 14 states, including Pennsylvania. Below is a list of the available utility provider programs in the state. Click here to learn more about each program.
|Allegheny County Sanitary Authority - ALCOSAN||Penn Power - A FirstEnergy Company|
|Aqua||Pennsylvania American Water|
|Clairton Municipal Authority||Peoples Gas Company LLC|
|Columbia Gas||Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority|
|Duquesne Light Company||Valley Energy|
|Lehigh County Authority||Wellsboro Electric|
|Met-Ed - A FirstEnergy Company||West Penn Power - A FirstEnergy Company|
|Penelec - A FirstEnergy Company||West View Water Authority|
If you don’t see your utility company listed, please get in touch with your utility company directly to determine what assistance may be available in your area.
Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC)
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission regulates the many essential utility services that Pennsylvania residents and businesses rely on daily. The PUC also has resources to help keep Pennsylvanians warm throughout the winter. The PUC Commissioners are urging consumers to call their utility service providers to explore various utility assistance programs and other options to help manage their energy use and keep bills affordable. They have also called on utility companies to act in their communities by:
- Urging income-qualified consumers to apply for programs designed to help make energy bills more affordable, including Customer Assistance Programs, Low-Income Usage Reduction Programs (LIURPs), the Emergency Rental Assistance Program and other available options.
- Reminding households that they may be eligible for enhanced assistance this year under the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) or Hardship Funds.
- Exercising flexibility when establishing payment arrangement plans for all consumers, including consideration for circumstances such as lost or reduced income, extended illness of a household member or increased household size and accompanying expenses.
- Educating consumers about conservation and ways to reduce energy usage.
- And increasing support and fundraising for utility hardship funds and other local programs that assist consumers who need help paying their utility bills.
PA Power Switch
PA Power Switch is the official electric shopping website of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC). If you need help paying your electric costs, there are several programs available in Pennsylvania to help you. Click here for more information about these assistance programs, including how to easily contact your local electric utility for assistance. If you are interested in learning more about ways to save energy, click here. For more information on energy rebates, click here. Lastly, as a residential utility customer, you have important rights to ensure fair dealings between you and your utility program. To learn more about your electric rights in Pennsylvania and how to protect yourself relating to your electric utility’s billing, credit, dispute, and shutoff practices, click here.
PA Gas Switch
PA Gas Switch is the official natural gas shopping website of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC). There are several programs available in Pennsylvania to help with your natural gas costs. If you need help paying for your gas bill, click here for more information about these assistance programs. If you want to learn more about ways to save energy and money this winter, click here. Lastly, as a residential utility customer, you have important rights to ensure fair dealings between you and your utility program. To learn more about your gas rights and protections in Pennsylvania, and how to protect yourself relating to your gas utility’s billing, credit, dispute, and shutoff practices, click here.
A Word on Budget Billing
Budget billing has become a key tool for consumers to mitigate spikes in utility bills and for utilities to manage account receivables. Budget billing allows consumers to pay similar amounts each month. This payment method eliminates the peak bills consumers receive during high-energy usage months by spreading the payments out over a greater period of time, making the amount due each month more predictable and affordable. Budget billing does not affect the total amount consumers pay yearly for utility services. After averaging your past energy use, your utility company will charge you an equal amount each month based on your projected costs for the year. It is possible that you could end up owing money at the end of the year should your energy usage exceed your energy company’s estimate. You should also ask how you’ll be reimbursed if you use less electricity or gas than your utility company expected. Weigh the pros and cons before enrolling in budget billing and ask your utility company if you’ll be charged an extra monthly administrative fee for the service.
Benefits Data Trust
Benefits Data Trust (BDT) is a national non-profit organization focused on improving access to public assistance programs by directly connecting eligible families and individuals to programs that help pay for food, healthcare, housing, utilities, prescription drugs, and more. BDT provides enrollment assistance in seven states - including Pennsylvania - through its Benefits Centers. The PA Benefits Center works to help Pennsylvanians across the Commonwealth access the benefits and services for which they are eligible. If you need help applying for LIHEAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicare Extra Help (LIS), Prescription Assistance Contract for the Elderly (PACE/PACENET), etc., call the PA Benefits Center at 1-833-373-5869. The Center is open Monday through Friday from 9 am to 5 pm.
Stay vigilant. Protect yourself and your pocketbook from utility scams. Learn how here.
Here are 13 additional ways to save a few dollars (or more) on your utility costs.