‘LIHEAPalooza’ teaches Philadelphians how to lower their utility bills

Philadelphians earning below the federal poverty level spend nearly a quarter of their incomes on energy. An event Friday is designed to help.

A utility meter

A utility meter is seen in a file photo. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Philadelphians struggling to pay their utility bills can learn how to lower them at a resource fair in South Philly Friday.

The event, called “LIHEAPalooza,” will include free food, activities for kids, a chance to win an air conditioner or TV, and help applying for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, which provides cash grants to help qualifying families pay their heating bills.

“Philadelphia is one of the most energy-burdened cities in the United States,” said Nidhi Krishen, the city’s deputy director for climate solutions. “We invite all residents to come and take advantage of this service.”

In Philadelphia, people earning below the federal poverty level spend on average close to a quarter of their income on energy, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. This makes it hard to afford other essentials, like food, health care, or housing.

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“When you have high energy burdens that are placing a lot of financial pressure on you generally, it can increase risks of homelessness and eviction and displacement, because those bills are just kind of adding up,” Krishen said.

More than 300,000 Philadelphia households spend over 10% of their income on energy, with Black and Hispanic households disproportionately experiencing high energy burdens, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

At the LIHEAPalooza event Friday, residents will be able to connect with staff from one of 16 Neighborhood Energy Centers throughout the city, which help people learn about and apply for various utility assistance programs. Representatives from PGW and PECO will also be present.

Neighborhood Energy Centers are “trusted grassroots organizations that operate in our most historically marginalized and vulnerable communities, and their job is to help residents alleviate [their energy] burden,” Krishen said.

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These centers are one-stop-shops for services including financial counseling, negotiating with your utility company to try to prevent a shut-off, and learning about weatherization options for your home. But these centers are underutilized, said Energy Coordinating Agency Executive Director Steve Luxton.

“They’re like the best kept secret in Philadelphia,” he said. “A lot of folks just simply aren’t aware of the fact that they’ve got potentially a resource that could really help them … that may be blocks away.”

The city’s Office of Sustainability is providing funding to help the Energy Coordinating Agency raise awareness about the neighborhood centers — through events like LIHEAPalooza.

LIHEAPalooza is Friday, 2 to 6 p.m., at Dixon House in South Philly; April 15 at the Kingsessing Recreation Center; and April 22 at the Salvation Army Kroc Center of Philadelphia in Nicetown. 

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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