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57,000 People Could Be Without Heat & Electricity

In a few days, a winter ban will end that's kept power companies from shutting off the heat and electricity for low-income families that haven't paid their bills.

But a legal aid non-profit is asking utilities companies to show some clemency to Pennsylvanians who need help paying those bills.

Michael Froehlich, a lawyer with the Community Legal Services based in Philadelphia, said it's an issue because more than 57,000 applications for heating assistance are still pending.

"Even though they've done nothing wrong, the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) has not been able to keep up with the processing of the applications," said Froehlich.

A DPW spokeswoman said it's not unusual for the agency to have a high number of pending applications at this time of year.

Froehlich said the backlog is due to under-resourced county offices that handle the aid requests.

"Over the past eight years, county assistance offices have lost 15 percent of their staff, and they're no longer able to keep up with their core functions in processing applications and reviewing eligibility," Froehlich said.

The Community Legal Services group is asking the Public Utility Commission (PUC) to make sure heat and electricity aren't shut off for families who are still waiting to hear back about their aid requests.

Companies will be able to shut off heat and electricity for delinquent customers starting in April.

A PUC spokeswoman says the request is under review.