People struggling to keep up with their electric or gas bill should get help or risk having their utility services terminated.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission recently announced that people behind in their utility bills could have those services shut off regardless of their income. This rule started Tuesday.
According to state law, utilities cannot cut off utility services to residents with low income during the winter months. However, the cutoffs are allowed for that income group beginning April 1, said Jennifer Kocher, a PUC spokeswoman.
People who receive shut-off notices should call the utility company immediately to make arrangements to avoid the termination, she said.
"We try to do this notice annually," Kocher said. "And we're just trying to be mindful of the cold weather we had this year, and want people to be aware that if they're struggling to pay their bill, they need to reach out to get help."
Heat help: Meanwhile, the state Department of Public Welfare has announced that the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, is being extended to run through Friday, April 18. The program's initial end date was this Friday.
Kocher said LIHEAP participants behind on their bills also could have their utility services terminated.
The federally-funded LIHEAP provides cash grants to help income-eligible homeowners or renters pay for home heating fuel, said Kait Gillis, DPW's spokeswoman.
The program also provides crisis grants to assist people whose heating equipment breaks, or they're in danger of service termination or they're within 15 days of running out of oil or gas, she said.
Funding: The DPW received $190 million in federal funding for LIHEAP's 2013-2014 season and the department had enough money left over to extend the program another two weeks, Gillis said.
So far, this LIHEAP season, which began in November, the state received more than 502,415 cash grant applications, approving close to 363,315 of them and distributing about $84 million, she said. The average cash grant amount given is $443 per applicant, Gillis added.
For the same period last year, more than 506,380 applications were received with close to 328,440 approved.
The state handled about 116,915 crisis grant applications, distributing more than $39 million. Last year, 101,449 such applications were submitted.
The spike in this season's crisis grant requests has been attributed to "the colder, longer, harsher winter we had this season," Gillis said.
—Reach Eyana Adah McMillan at firstname.lastname@example.org.