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Report: Utility assistance in Pennsylvania should be available in the summer, not just the winter

Window air conditioning units.
Emma Lee
Window air conditioning units.

As average temperatures climb due to climate change, the state should expand a program that helps low-income households pay winter heating bills to also cover summer cooling costs, according to a new report.

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides millions in federal funds annually toward winter heating bills; it generally runs from November through April or May. Households must have an income at or below 150% of the federal poverty level to qualify.

But people need help with energy bills in the summer as well, advocates at Community Legal Services and Philadelphia-based nonprofit Esperanza said in the report released earlier this month. About 30 other states offer such assistance, according to the report.

“A lot of people are struggling to keep their houses cool — they may be facing high electric bills and facing possible shut offs of electricity in the summer, or they may be intentionally keeping their houses warm and not using their air conditioners because they're afraid of electric bills getting high,” said Joline Price, a supervising attorney at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia. “And so all of that put together really points to this need for a utility assistance program that is that serves both heating and cooling needs around in a year round fashion.”

A state House bill last year proposed creating a year-round LIHEAP program; it did not advance out of committee.

Such a program would need to be paid for with state funds. The report recommends an initial allocation of $50 million.

A state pilot program that gives air conditioning units and fans to a small number of LIHEAP households is currently in its second year.

More information on LIHEAP and how to apply is available here. There will be public hearings on the state’s LIHEAP plan on Thursday, June 29, and again on Thursday, July 6. More information is available here.

Kate Giammarise focuses her reporting on poverty, social services and affordable housing. Before joining WESA, she covered those topics for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for nearly five years; prior to that, she spent several years in the paper’s Harrisburg bureau covering the legislature, governor and state government. She can be reached at or 412-697-2953.