Number of Households Receiving LIHEAP Again Reach Record Levels

While traveling around Pennsylvania this week, the cold winter weather and the rising cost of electricity and home heating has had me thinking of the many Pennsylvanians struggling to pay their utility bills.  Since joining the Senate, I have taken advantage of every opportunity to increase home energy assistance.  I strongly supported funding Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) at $5.1 billion for Fiscal Year 2010, the same as Fiscal Year 2009 and the highest level ever funded for the program.  As rising energy prices, a slowing economy and increasing food costs place a heavy burden on our must vulnerable citizens, the federal government has a responsibility to help people afford the most basic needs.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission last month reported that 17,000 households in the state were without heat.  It greatly troubles me that in Fiscal Year 2009, the number of homeowners whose utility service was disconnected increased by 5 percent because people could not afford to pay.  This increase is especially alarming in light of the fact that federal emergency-bill assistance doubled this year and in many parts of the country utility rates lowered.  Over the past two years, our Nation has endured the most difficult economic situation in recent memory. In Pennsylvania, the unemployment rate has grown to 8.5 percent, which means that over half a million people are out of work.  It is very important that as our economy recovers, people continue to have electricity, especially during the winter months. 

Although as a U.S. Senator I am unable to take direct action on Pennsylvania’s decision to deregulate its electricity generation industry, I am watching the situation closely.  Experts predict that deregulation will cause an increase in electricity bills when rate caps expire, which has already occurred in parts of the state and will be completed by 2011.  I am very concerned about what such an increase would mean for the people and industries located in our state.  For this reason, I have asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to look into competition and rates in wholesale electricity markets.  I will continue to follow this critically important issue.  For those interested in learning more about how to better shop for residential electricity, I recommend visiting the Pennsylvania Office of the Consumer Advocate’s website.