As temperatures rise, Philadelphians struggle to keep up with energy costs

July 4th, the celebration of America’s Independence Day, marked the planet’s hottest day on record.

And as the air quality worsens, this year’s heat season poses a great threat to Philadelphians, particularly the city’s vulnerable populations. Children, the elderly, and people with chronic illnesses are the most vulnerable to the extreme heat that the planet has endured, and it is recommended for people to stay indoors and be in air-conditioned spaces to avoid heat-related illness.

Yet, for low-income residents of neighborhoods like Hunting Park, one of the city’s hottest areas, staying cool over the summer comes at a high price.

A recent survey conducted by nonprofits Community Legal Services of Philadelphia (CLS) and Esperanza found that 76% of respondents cannot afford their energy bill over the summer. Nearly 90% of the 113 respondents, all from Philadelphia, limited the use of air conditioning to keep their energy costs down. The results were featured in a policy brief co-authored by both organizations.

“We are told to stay indoors with our A/C on. But for people that struggle to afford their energy bills, this is sometimes not an option. Unfortunately, LIHEAP, which is the public assistance program that supports people with their energy bills, is not available to Pennsylvanians in the summer,” said Angel Ortiz-Siberon, Vice President of Research & Strategic Initiatives at Esperanza, and one of the authors of the report.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, also known as LIHEAP, can provide cash grants to help householders below 150% of the federal poverty level with their heating and cooling bills. Pennsylvania currently receives about $200 million a year for LIHEAP. However, LIHEAP in Pennsylvania does not provide any support to families in the summer months. States like New Jersey, New York, and Ohio process LIHEAP applications in the summer to cover cooling.

The CLS and Esperanza brief, titled “Enduring the Extremes,” calls on the state legislature to expand LIHEAP. Close to 100% of the survey respondents support a year-round LIHEAP program. The report also makes note of the specific needs of seniors, people with disAbilities, and limited English proficient populations.

Currently, CLS and Esperanza have been in conversations with state elected officials to discuss the policy brief and the resident’s recommendations.

To read more about the policy brief on the expansion of LIHEAP, visit Pennsylvania’s LIHEAP application portal will reopen in November. To learn more about LIHEAP’s application process, contact Esperanza at (215) 324-0746 to schedule an appointment with a bilingual BenePhilly counselor.


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