There’s help for higher winter heating bills
By MARK KEMPIC
According to a recent report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, many households across the United States are likely to spend more on energy this winter compared to past years.
As Pennsylvanians brace for this winter’s cold temperatures, some households across the commonwealth may be facing financial hardships and wondering where they can turn for help if they fall behind on their home energy bills.
Consumers need to look no further than their local utility companies, which offer a wide range of programs to help income-eligible customers pay their bills and maintain their utility services. Providers like Columbia Gas can connect individuals with federal, state, and local resources to help them stay warm and manage their energy usage and bills.
Every utility has similar assistance programs though they may go by different names.
However, one common program among natural gas and electric utility companies is the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, a federally funded program administered through the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.
Through Pennsylvania’s LIHEAP program, nearly $170 million is available this season to help potentially more than 308,000 income-eligible households across Pennsylvania with their winter heating bills through cash and crisis grants. One-time cash grants range from $300 to $1,000 based on household size, income, and fuel type.
Crisis grants are available if someone has an emergency and is in jeopardy of losing heat. A household can receive more than one crisis grant, as necessary, during the season until the maximum benefit of $1,000 is reached.
Because eligibility requirements change season to season, many households may now qualify and not even realize it, so it’s important to take the time to understand the program’s benefits and to apply for assistance as soon as possible.
Households can apply online at www.compass.state.pa.us or request an application by calling the statewide LIHEAP hotline at 1-866-857-7095. The LIHEAP enrollment period runs through April 23, 2023, or until funding is exhausted.
Households may still be able to receive assistance even if they don’t qualify for LIHEAP benefits. Many utility companies also have hardship funds with higher income eligibility guidelines that provide cash assistance to utility customers.
At Columbia Gas, for example, the hardship program is administered by Dollar Energy Fund, and is a fund of last resort for eligible customers who have exhausted all other sources of energy assistance and are still having trouble paying their utility bills. Qualifying customers can receive grants to help pay off past-due balances or to restore service.
Another way consumers can manage their energy usage is through energy efficiency programs offered by utility companies, such as the Low Income Usage Reduction Program, which is a free home weatherization program which assists households in reducing their home’s energy consumption by identifying and addressing areas in homes where heat escapes.
Bottom line, no one should have to worry about staying safe and warm this winter. If you or someone you know is at risk of being without utility service, call your utility company. They are equipped to help customers navigate through the available energy efficiency and financial aid programs to help them get back on track.
Mark Kempic is the president and chief operating officer of Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania and Maryland.