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State official: In 2020, more Pennsylvanians struggling to pay bills

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

State officials want Pennsylvania residents to know they don't have to go without heat this winter if they're struggling to pay the bills.

Because of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Pennsylvania households are having trouble paying their utility bills for the first time, said Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission Chair Gladys Brown Dutrieuille in a news conference Monday. 

"I urge everyone in that situation to just pick up the phone and call your public utility as soon as possible to learn what options are available for you," she said. "Don't wait for the past due bill."

Compared to this time last year, Dutrieuille said there's been an increase in the number of people unable to pay their utility bills, and the income level of those struggling has also increased.

Dutrieuille said utility companies can provide customers with information about payment plans to address past-due balances and about "budget billing," which allows customers to pay a set amount each month instead of dealing with a spike in costs due to changing weather.

Snow is cleared from a car on East South Street in York City, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, following the first winter storm of the season. Dawn J. Sagert photo

There are also federal cash grants, such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

LIHEAP grants of up to $1,000 are available help qualifying households pay for their heating bills over the winter. To apply online, visit compass.state.pa.us, or call the York County Assistance Office at 1-800-991-0929.

"Getting connected to these programs may just be a phone call away," she said.

Residents who have trouble getting in touch with their utility company, or getting the help they need from their utility company, can also call the PUC's Bureau of Consumer Services at 717-783-5187, Dutrieuille said.

Congress early Tuesday morning approved a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package that would provide $600 in direct payments to most Americans and an extra $300 per week in unemployment compensation, The Associated Press reported.

Jennifer Berrier, acting secretary for the state Department of Labor & Industry, said her department would begin rolling out the extra benefits in the bill as soon as state officials receive guidance from the federal government.

More:Federally funded LIHEAP helps low-income households with heating bills

More:Congress ready to approve $900B COVID-19 relief bill