Federal and state government agencies and utility companies recognize that at times some customers experience problems meeting their utility bill payments. Universal Services Programs in Pennsylvania are available for those in need to gain access to affordable energy. Through Universal Services Programs, the government and utility companies assist eligible payment-troubled customers on limited or fixed incomes to:
- Establish affordable payment arrangements to maintain utility service.
- Obtain grants and assistance from community-based organizations.
- Guide customers toward self-sufficiency in paying their bills.
- Reduce the utility consumption to a more affordable level through effective conservation measures.
Various Universal Services Programs are available to customers throughout Pennsylvania. Brief general descriptions and eligibility requirements of some of the common programs are provided in the links below.
Contact your local County Assistance Office as well as your energy suppliers (electricity company and heating fuel company) as soon as possible to identify all the Universal Services Programs that are available in your region and the specific eligibility requirements for each program. You may also contact the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare at 1-800-692-7462 or, for the hearing impaired, TTY 1-800-451-5886.
Customer Assistance Programs (CAPs)
Customer Assistance Programs (CAPs) are required by state regulations to assist residential customers maintain electric service and eliminate their past-due balances.
These programs focus on making payments affordable. The utility (electricity and gas) companies establish CAPs to assist customers who are having payment problems and/or who are in need of emergency financial assistance to prevent service termination. The programs differ from one utility to the next. Some of the utilities offer a broad spectrum of options, while some other utilities provide support with fewer options to the consumers. If you are a CAPs participant, you will not lose your financial assistance if you switch from one utility supplier to another. The overall goals of CAPs are to:
- Improve payment ability.
- Reduce consumption of electricity and gas (if applicable).
- Reduce bad debt.
The income eligibility for CAPs is generally 150 percent above the federal poverty level for Pennsylvania as shown below. However, the eligibility may differ somewhat from one utility company to another. Check with your utility companies to learn of their specific requirements.
Customer Assistance and Referral Evaluation Services (CARES)
The Customer Assistance and Referral Evaluation Services (CARES) program provides personalized assistance on a short-term basis to payment-troubled residential customers.
The program is intended to maximize the abilities of the selected participants to pay utility bills by helping the participants take advantage of other programs for which they qualify. CARES representatives provide advice and counseling in situations requiring sensitivity to assist customers through periods of financial difficulties. Services provided include counseling on budget issues, customizing payment plans, and identifying financial assistance available through community resources, social agencies, and utility companies. CARES also helps the utility companies maintain and improve a network of community and government agencies that provide services to payment-troubled residential customers.
The income eligibility for CARES is generally 200 percent above the federal poverty level for Pennsylvania as shown below. However, the income limits may be modified for special situations and eligibility requirements may differ somewhat from one utility company to another.
For some customers with special needs (such as handicapped or disabled people, seriously ill people, or the elderly), the household income eligibility limit may be waived. Check with each of your utility companies to learn of the specific requirements for the CARES program.
The Hardship Fund (also known as Dollar Energy Fund, $1 Energy, Fuel Fund, and Neighbor for Neighbor Fund in some regions of the state) is an emergency fund designed to assist residential customers who have suffered a recent financial hardship and need temporary help in paying their electricity bills. Most of the funding for the program is provided by contributions from community and religious organizations and from the customers, employees, and stockholders of the utility companies sponsoring the fund.
The Hardship Fund provides financial support to customers for paying a balance due on past bills and/or for restoring service to customers who have been terminated. The support is designated for customers with low incomes who have exhausted all other available energy assistance programs.
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is a federally funded program to help eligible low-income households meet the home heating and/or cooling portion of their residential energy needs. The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare administers the LIHEAP funds for all Pennsylvania residents who apply and meet qualifications. LIHEAP in Pennsylvania provides both cash and crisis assistance.
The purpose of the cash program is to provide a one-time payment to help with the heating season's energy costs. Cash benefit amounts vary based on household size and income. The cash grant payment is sent directly to the utility company or fuel provider, and the payment will be credited to your bill.
The crisis program provides funds to resolve a particular crisis but not necessarily the total funds needed to resolve the crisis. To be eligible for a crisis grant, you must have an energy emergency. A crisis grant can help pay for the following:
- Service shut-off
- Utility bills and the turn-on charge to get service restored
- Fuel if you are in danger of being out of fuel
- Expenses for any of the following:
- Buying a new heating system
- Thawing frozen pipes
- Repairing a broken furnace
- Repairing heat-related water-heating system
- Repairing gas or fuel lines
- Replacing broken windows
Features of the LIHEAP cash or crisis program:
- You do not need to be on public assistance.
- You do not need to have an unpaid heating bill.
- You may either rent or own your home.
- There is no expectation to pay back a LIHEAP grant.
- No lien is placed on your home or property for value of LIHEAP support.
- The amount of any LIHEAP payment or allowances provided directly to an eligible household shall not be considered income or resources of the household for any purpose under any federal or state law, including any law relating to taxation, food stamps, public assistance, or welfare programs.
The income eligibility for LIHEAP is 135 percent above the federal poverty income guideline for Pennsylvania. The income eligibility levels change with each new heating season and focus primarily on household size and income level.
Funds for the cash and crisis programs are limited and the program is open for only a short time. Both the cash and crisis programs open each year in November and close in March.
To apply for LIHEAP, you need to apply in the county where you live. The information needed for the application includes:
- Name of each person in your household
- Social Security number and birth date for each person in the household
- Proof of income for each member of household
- Recent heating bill
Low Income Usage Reduction Program (LIURP)
Also known as Smart Comfort and Weatherization Assistance, the Low Income Usage Reduction Program (LIURP) is a statewide utility-sponsored program mandated by Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission regulations. (Smart Comfort and Weatherization Assistance Programs are the equivalent of LIURP in some utility territories.) LIURP is intended to help low-income residential customers lower their energy costs through effective energy conservation.
Customers may qualify for energy-efficiency improvements such as storm windows, storm doors, insulation, refrigerator replacement, water heater jackets, energy-efficient lighting, and energy audits. LIURP complements and supplements the services funded by other low-income programs. Each utility company has some flexibility in terms of the nature of services provided to reduce energy usage.
The income eligibility for LIURP in Pennsylvania is 150 percent above the federal poverty level. For some customers with special needs (such as handicapped or disabled people, seriously ill people, or the elderly), the household income eligibility may be increased to 200 percent above federal poverty level.
Warm PA (also known as Warm Choice in some regions of the state) is a free weatherization and energy education program for residential customers of some utility companies in Pennsylvania. The objective of the program is to help customers save energy and money by reducing their energy consumption. Installing energy conservation measures and educating family members on their use of energy are the primary activities of utility company representatives, community-based organizations, and contractors to reduce energy consumption.