Need help paying your utility bills? Here’s your guide to assistance in Philly

(BigStock)

(BigStock)

Do you have trouble paying your utility bills? You’re not alone.

Thousands of Philadelphians face electricity shut offs each summer. Homeowners with high water debt can have a lien placed against their homes. And we’re only a few months away from colder weather when unpaid utility bills can mount.

But assistance programs are available to help people pay their bills.

“Apply for the program,” is the advice of Adrienne Hughes, who helps Philadelphians apply for utility assistance programs at the We Never Say Never Neighborhood Energy Center in West Philly. “You’re saving money that you won’t have to put to your utility bills. You can put it towards food, or you can put it towards buying something else that you need.”

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Here’s a guide to some of the utility assistance programs available to Philly residents.

PECO’s Customer Assistance Program

PECO’s Customer Assistance Program (CAP) adjusts your electricity or natural gas bills to your household income.

It provides a monthly credit on your bill, based on your monthly gross household income, your annual energy usage, and the percent of your income that should go to energy costs — known as your “energy burden.”

If you qualify for CAP, any PECO debt you have can be forgiven when you enroll, company officials say.

Who’s eligible: PECO’s CAP is income-qualified, based on 150% of the federal poverty level. For a household of one in 2022, monthly income cannot exceed $1,699. For a family of four, household monthly income cannot exceed $3,469.

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How to apply: You can apply for CAP online. You can also download an application form in English or Spanish and submit it by email, fax, or mail. You can call PECO for help at 1-800-774-7040.

Customers must re-enroll in CAP every two years.

CAP is PECO’s main assistance program. The company also offers budget billing to help customers balance their bills throughout the year and payment arrangements based on household income, with terms up to 60 months, for qualifying customers with account balances less than $3,000.

 

Utility Emergency Services Fund (UESF) grants

UESF offers grants for Philadelphia residents who have received a notice of termination or have already had their water, gas or electricity shut off.

UESF grants must zero-out a utility account balance. If your utility debt exceeds the UESF grant amount, you’ll need to be able to pay the difference in order to receive the grant. PECO, PGW, and the Philadelphia Water Department match UESF grants.

To receive a UESF grant during the LIHEAP season, you must apply for help through LIHEAP first.

Who qualifies: Philadelphians at or below 175% of federal poverty level. In 2022, that’s $1,982 monthly for a household of one and $4,047 monthly for a family of four.

You cannot receive a UESF grant more than once every two years.

How to apply: Visit a UESF intake site in person; call 215-814-6837; or email utility@uesfacts.org. You can also check your eligibility online here.

 

Philadelphia Water Department assistance programs

Philly water customers can apply for multiple assistance programs with a single application.

PWD offers a Tiered Assistance Program (TAP) that sets your water bill at the same amount every month. After you make 24 TAP payments, your past water debts can disappear. PWD also offers a senior citizen water bill discount.

Who qualifies: If your income is up to 150% the federal poverty level, you may be eligible for monthly water bills between 2% and 3% of your household income. If your income is up to 250% the federal poverty level, you may be eligible for bills that are around 4% of your household income.

If your household has higher income but you’re going through a “special hardship” (like losing your job, a serious illness, or a birth or death in the family), you could still qualify.

How to apply: You can apply online, by mail, or in-person (call 215-685-6300 to request an application be mailed to you), and in-person (some locations may be closed because of the pandemic). It will take roughly two months for PWD to review your application. In the meantime, you’ll be charged the normal amount.

 

PGW’s Customer Responsibility Program

Philadelphia Gas Works’ Customer Responsibility Program (CRP) gives you a discount on your monthly gas bill, based on your household size, household income, and average gas bill. The program can also lead to gas debt forgiveness.

According to PGW, the program can “cut your bill in half.”

Who qualifies: Low-income customers, based on federal poverty guidelines. The monthly income limit for a household of one is $1,518. For a family of four, it’s $3,138.

How to apply: You can apply online through PGW’s My Account portal.

PGW’s customer service centers are still closed due to the pandemic, but you can mail in an application and the necessary documents. Download applications (in 14 languages) here.

PGW also offers budget billing to help customers balance their bills throughout the year and a Customer Assistance Referral Evaluation Program (Cares) that gives payment assistance to customers facing special circumstances like medical emergencies or unemployment.

 

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is a federally funded grant program that can help you pay your heating bill. It comes in two types of grants: cash and crisis.

The cash grant is between $500 and $1,500, and goes directly to your utility company to help pay your bill. You don’t need to have an overdue balance.

The crisis grant is for when you’re in a heating emergency — for example, if your heater breaks, you run out of fuel, your heat is shut off, or you get a termination notice.

You can view potential LIHEAP benefit amounts through this tool. 

PA’s LIHEAP season is now closed, but will re-open again November 1. The state is running a pilot program this summer to use LIHEAP funds to provide or repair air conditioners, but only for households that already got LIHEAP or weatherization help in the past year.

Who qualifies: Renters or homeowners who meet income requirements based on 150% of the federal poverty level. In 2022, that’s $1,699 monthly for a household of one and $3,469 monthly for a family of four.

How to apply: You can apply online or you can deliver a paper application to one of the local county assistance offices in Philly.

You can sign up now for a text or email alert from PGW when LIHEAP applications become available.

 

Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program

The Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP) is an emergency grant for households with overdue water bills, shut-off water service, or a termination notice.

You can get one grant for drinking water service and one for wastewater service, up to $2,500 each.

Who qualifies: Low-income renters or homeowners. For a household of one, annual income cannot exceed $19,320. For a family of four, it cannot exceed $39,750.

How to apply: You can apply online, or in-person at your one of several local county assistance offices in Philly. You can also download a paper application in English or Spanish here, or request an application by calling 877-395-8930.

Weatherization

The federally funded Weatherization Assistance Program, administered in Philly by the Energy Coordinating Agency (ECA) and Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation (PHDC), helps you spend less on your utility bills by using less energy.

It provides free energy efficiency improvements in homes, such as sealing air leaks and adding insulation. According to the state, the average expenditure per household in Pennsylvania is over $7,600.

Who qualifies: Households at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. In 2022, that’s $2,265 monthly for a household of one and $4,625 monthly for a family of four.

How to apply: Go to a Neighborhood Energy Center. Contact ECA by calling 215-609-1000 or emailing info@ecasavesenergy.org.

 

Low Income Usage Reduction Program

PECO’s Low Income Usage Reduction Program (LIURP) also helps electricity customers save money by using less energy. You can schedule a virtual or in-home energy assessment, to evaluate ways your home and appliances could be more energy-efficient.

You can also get free energy-saving items, like LED light bulbs or a smart power strip.

Who qualifies: PECO customers with “high usage” that meets certain kilowatt-hour thresholds (compare the charges on your bill to these criteria). Customers must also earn no more than 200% of the federal poverty level. In 2022, that’s $2,265 monthly for a household of one and $4,625 monthly for a family of four.

How to apply: Call 1-800-675-0222.

 

Heater hotline

The Energy Coordinating Agency’s heater hotline provides free repairs to gas, oil, coal, or electric heaters. It can also provide preventative maintenance and cleanouts (pro tip: call during the spring and summer months!).

If your heater needs replacing, ECA will forward your application to PHDC’s Basic Systems Repair Program.

A limited number of low-income families can also get help replacing a broken hot water heater this year.

Who qualifies: Single-family homeowners under 150% of the federal poverty level. In 2022, that’s $1,699 monthly for a household of one and $3,469 monthly for a family of four. (For hot water heater replacement, the income limit is 300% the federal poverty level).

How to apply: Call the hotline at 215-568-7190.

 

Neighborhood Energy Centers: a one-stop-shop!

If you want to hear about all your options and get help applying, visit one of more than a dozen Neighborhood Energy Centers throughout the city.

Staff will ask you questions about your situation, help you analyze your utility bills, point you toward any resources you’re eligible for, and help you apply. They might even follow up in the future if a new opportunity arises.

“You have that one-on-one with someone who’s from your community, who’s been where you’ve been or maybe where you’re at,” said Hughes, of the We Never Say Never Neighborhood Energy Center. “They can encourage you to hang in there, until things get a little bit better.”

Neighborhood Energy Centers also offer budgeting help, tips on how to conserve energy in your home, and weatherization workshops.

 

Community Legal Services

Facing a utility shutoff or utility-related legal issue?

Reach out to Community Legal Services (CLS) for free legal advice and representation.

If you’ve experienced a shutoff, staff can help you find the fastest and most affordable way to get heat, electricity or water service back in your home. They can also connect you with other resources, such as weatherization, LIHEAP and help with water debt.

Who’s eligible: Low-income Philadelphia residents.

How to apply: First, reach out to your utility company directly before seeking assistance from CLS.

Call CLS: 215-981-3700 (Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday 9am-12pm)

Walk In:

1424 Chestnut St. (Monday and Wednesday 9am-12pm)

1410 W. Erie Ave (Monday and Wednesday 8:30am-12pm)

Be sure to gather relevant documents first, including letters and any recent bills.

 

Know of another resource to help Philadelphians with their utility bills? Let us know so we can update the guide! 

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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