Iris Rodriguez always remembers to bundle up during the day, wearing extra layers and sweaters. But she doesn’t only dress warm when she steps outside. She also does it while she’s inside her own North Philly home.
“I try to have my gas off so the bills don’t come higher,” Rodriguez said. “So I dress up with sweaters and stuff like that and keep warm inside my house.”
Rodriguez says she’s had trouble paying her gas bill and can’t afford to push her thermostat past 68 to 70 degrees. She admits that living in such a cold home, especially during the winter, isn’t particularly good for her health.
“I have asthma and other health problems also,” she said. “But I try to make ends meet and I don’t want my bills getting higher.”
According to officials with PGW, out of 491,000 Philadelphia customers, 9,000 of those are without gas and potentially without heat. Officials say the customers were disconnected prior to the winter months after being unable to pay their gas bill. They also say however, that some of those numbers could be for homes that are now vacant.
Officials with PECO say only 118 of their customers out of 1.6 million are without power. PECO is crediting this to an aggressive program that reaches out to customers who are behind on their bills or struggling financially. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides assistance for low-income families who can't afford to heat their homes.
LIHEAP assistance offers crisis grants for households in danger of not being able to keep their heat on. The program opened Jan. 2 and closes on April 4. Assistance is available 24 hours a day and there are Philadelphia County assistance offices that are available to help those in need. The list of offices are here.
Last year at this time, the program approved 31,000 Philadelphians. As of now, 64,000 have been approved. Officials say the sharp increase is not only because of the cold but also because of a massive backlog in processing applications last year.
NBC10 was there as Rodriguez walked inside the Department of Public Welfare building to apply for LIHEAP funding.
Officials with LIHEAP say they’ve already extended 55% of the money it received from the federal government, which has raised some concerns that they’ll run out of funding.
“In the past few years we haven’t faced that issue,” said Kate Gillis of LIHEAP. “We are expecting some additional funding to come through as well.”
Officials with the Department of Public Welfare say they expect to receive another $29 million from the federal government by March. PECO officials also say that the utility will not disconnect customers with a past due bill of less than $350.
There are three ways you can apply for LIHEAP: online on paper or in person. You can download an application and obtain more information here.