PUC Takes a Step Toward Helping More People Afford to Heat Their Homes

The Philadelphia Inquirer

For many people, climate change is an abstract notion that’s easy to ignore — something another generation can deal with — until we live through a week like one that just passed, with brutal, below-zero temperatures that then swing suddenly to warmer temperatures. Such extremes add challenges to heating a home, and for many, that’s layered over the challenge of being able to afford heat and electricity in the first place. This is a struggle that, with rising poverty rates in the city, looms larger and larger each year.

According to a recent survey from the Pennsylvania Utility Commission, more than 18,500 households either don’t have heat or use an unsafe heat source. In Philadelphia, 7,777 households started this winter with their gas heat disconnected due to an unpaid bill, according to Philadelphia’s city-owned gas supplier PGW.

To help low-income households, Pennsylvania receives $222 million from the federal government through the Low Income Housing Energy Assistance Program. The program, administered by the Pa. Department of Human Services, gives grants to help low income households pay utility bills. In the past, the program was ill-administered and suffered from huge backlogs that left people without heat in the winter. However, advocates from legal aid organizations say that the program now is better administered and responds to issues quickly.

Still, for some of the state’s poorest families, even with LIHEAP, utility bills are too high. In fact, the PUC released a report last week that found that many households in the state pay more than 17 percent of their annual income on gas and electric bills — much higher than nearby states New York and New Jersey (6 percent), and Ohio (10 percent).

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