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PUC urges financially stressed Pennsylvanians to explore utility assistance programs to lower bills

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The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission on Friday urged financially stressed households to explore options available to help keep monthly utility bills affordable — whether their concerns are related to the current COVID-19 crisis or other economic issues.

The five PUC commissioners stressed the availability of an assortment of PUC-required utility assistance programs, along with the merits of energy conservation and efficiency programs. They urged households struggling financially during the coronavirus crisis to work with their utilities to tap into numerous utility assistance programs intended to make utility bills more manageable, to assist in payment options.

The PUC offered the following tips for households experiencing financial difficulties:

• Contact your utilities to discuss the details and qualifications for their customer assistance programs, especially if there have been recent changes in household income. Even if you did not qualify for CAP in the past, you may now be eligible.

• Customers currently on CAPs who have experienced further reductions in household income should check with their utilities to determine if they qualify for additional assistance or more favorable financial options.

• Discuss your financial situation with your utilities before bills become delinquent to explore other possible options. This could include extended payment plans, budget billing, utility hardship funds and/or assistance through the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and federal Lifeline program (telecommunications and broadband access funding support to eligible low income individuals or households).

In Middletown, the borough has its own electrical system that does not come under the PUC.

Borough council March 17 approved a 60-day suspension in electrical shut-offs due to the coronavirus pandemic. If you have concerns about your borough electric bill, call the borough at 1-717-902-0706 or contact the borough through its website, www.middletownborough.com.

None of this can be done in person as the borough office is currently closed to the public due to the pandemic. 

Middletown residents can pay their electric bill by using the secure dropbox in the parking lot behind the municipal building, or via U.S. mail. You can also make a credit card payment through the borough website.

The PUC has already taken steps to pause payment-related utility terminations for residents and businesses across the state during the current emergency. The commission also noted the value and impact of monthly utility payments, as these funds support the electric, natural gas, water, wastewater and telecommunications services we all depend upon.

Although the PUC has temporarily paused payment-related utility terminations, it is important for consumers to understand that any past due bills or delinquent balances that remain after the current public health emergency has passed will be handled according to the rules of the individual utilities and consistent with commission policy, the PUC said.

Many systems that are largely outside the PUC’s jurisdiction — such as municipal utilities, municipal authorities and cooperatives — have also moved to work with financially troubled consumers and suspend terminations. Consumers served by those non-PUC regulated systems should work directly with their municipality or co-op to address payment issues.

Additionally, national telecommunications companies are working with the Federal Communications Commission’s Keep America Connected initiative to ensure that Americans do not lose their broadband or telephone connectivity during these exceptional circumstances. So far, more than 550 companies and associations have signed the FCC’s pledge.

The PUC encourages families to explore energy conservation to help manage bills — especially as more people are working remotely and spending their entire day at home. This can have a notable impact on your energy usage. The PUC has interactive information and tips for saving energy on its energy shopping websites — PAPowerSwitch.com and PAGasSwitch.com.

Visit the PUC’s website at www.puc.pa.gov for more.