Winter can be an especially difficult time for low-income families, when the cost of heating a home can skyrocket.
For the last 30 years, Dollar Energy Fund has been providing grants to people who are struggling to pay their utility bills during the coldest months.
Jody Robertson, director of communications for Dollar Energy Fund, said the nonprofit has helped keep the heat on in over 362,000 homes in nine states, doling out more than $103 million to needy families.
“Last year in Pennsylvania we helped over 12,500 low-income families,” said Robertson. “That works out to be about 36,000 individuals, including children, adults, and senior citizens.”
To be eligible, an individual must make less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line, which works out to about $47,100/year for a family of four. They also must have received a termination notice or have had their utilities completely shut off, and have made a sincere effort to pay at least some portion of their bill.
Robertson said people can start by calling their utility company as soon as they receive a termination notice.
Applications are processed through local charitable organizations, like the Salvation Army, which Robertson says can also help families apply for other services.
“When they apply for assistance, they are directed to one of our community based organizations that we partner with that can also help them with anything else they’re struggling with,” Robertson said. “Whether it’s assistance with food or job placement, child care, things like that.”
Much of the money in the hardship fund comes from individual contributions that people make through their utility companies.
“A lot of people who donate to Dollar Energy Fund do so through checking the box on their utility bill, which adds a dollar more to their monthly bill automatically,” said Robertson. “Then that money is matched by utility partners through shareholder credits.”
When the weather turns really cold, the focus will shift to families who have already lost service.
“From Dec. 1 through Jan. 31, it’s for those who have services that are off,” Robertson said. “Not just threat of termination, but off.”
Robertson said it’s hard to say how much money the organization will distribute this year, as donations will continue to come in throughout the season.