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WINTER UTILITY SHUT-OFF PROTECTIONS END APRIL 1; COMMUNITY LEGAL SERVICES/PUBLIC ADVOCATE PROVIDES ADVICE ON RIGHTS TO CONTINUED SERVICE

 WINTER UTILITY SHUT-OFF PROTECTIONS END APRIL 1; COMMUNITY LEGAL SERVICES/PUBLIC ADVOCATE PROVIDES ADVICE ON RIGHTS TO CONTINUED SERVICE
 PHILADELPHIA, March 30 /PRNewswire/ -- Customers of the Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW) should be aware that as of April 1, PGW will be permitted by law to resume shut-offs for residential accounts, according to the Public Advocate at Community Legal Services.
 Customers are being urged by the Public Advocate to be aware of grant programs and utility payment plans to retain life-essential utilities year-round.
 From Nov. 15 through April 1 of each heating season, PGW is prohibited from shutting off delinquent residential heating accounts according to Philadelphia Gas Commission rules. The Public Utility Commission (PUC) and the City Water Department have similar rules for the utilities which they regulate, so PECO is prohibited from shutting off heat related accounts from Dec. 1 through March 31 of each year and the Water Department may not shut off any residential water account during these time periods.
 Come April 1, PGW must still follow certain notice procedures before the actual shut-off may take place. The Public Advocate reminds customers with a shut-off notice who cannot afford to make full payment, to make a payment agreement which will allow them to spread out their payments.
 Customers with low-incomes who are facing a shut-off may be able to get some help from three energy assistance programs.
 Two programs, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the CRISIS program, offer federal funds and can provide up to $500 for heat-related bills. Call 215-686-2590, or 215-560-2970, for more details. However, because of continuing cuts at the federal level, Pennsylvania will run out of LIHEAP money and will close both programs on April 3. Many households are not motivated to apply for the LIHEAP and CRISIS programs until they are in real danger of shut-off. Household who rely on the LIHEAP and CRISIS programs but who have not yet applied for the programs are urged to apply immediately.
 The Utility Emergency Services Fund (UESF) can give up to $500 on heat-relateds bill as long as it brings bills down to zero. One can combine UESF with LIHEAP and CRISIS if one's bill is more than $500. Call UESF at 215-732-3111 for a referral to a neighborhood application site.
 For PGW customers, according to the Public Advocate, there are three types of payment agreements, a "5&2 Agreement" which is available to customers with low-incomes, or a "20-24 Agreement" for all other residential customers. Call PGW at 215-235-1000 or visit your local PGW office to find out which payment plan you qualify for or to get more details about the new payment plan.
 PECO and the Water Department also provide a variety of payment plans. PECO has recently announced an aggressive collection initiative which targets customers who can afford to pay their PECO bill but don't. Aggressive collection action will include stricter payment agreements, accelerated timeframes for issuing delinquency and shut-off notices, and most drastic, accelerated termination of service for customers who fail to make payment arrangements on their PECO bill. PECO customers should call 215-841-4000 to arrange payment terms.
 While these aggressive collection strategies are allowed under the state Public Utility Commission rules, PECO must also meet PUC requirements which protect customers who have been unable to keep up with their bills dues to financial or medical circumstances.
 PECO customers with low incomes will receive special payment terms and helpful referrals to available assistance programs which may assist with payment of utility bills. PECO has said that it does not want to target low-income customers for shut-off action. Community Legal Services urges low-income customers to immediately contact PECO to let them know that you are low-income and to access the special payment agreements. Customers with low incomes may also want to ask about special help available through PECO's customer assistance program. Any PECO customer who is dissatisfied with the payment terms offered by PECO can call the PUC at 800-732-3111 to have them review the terms.
 The Water Revenue Bureau handles payment arrangement for the Water Department and you can reach them by calling 215-686-6880. Water customers should be sure to ask about special agreements with the Water Revenue Bureau conference committee which are geared to household income, do not require any downpayment, and allow more than 36 months to pay off the bill.
 /delval/
 -0- 3/30/92
 /CONTACT: Julie Dugery, 215-893-5374, or evenings, 215-248-5655, or Peter Adels, 215-893-5372, both of Community Legal Services/ CO: Community Legal Services ST: Pennsylvania IN: SU:


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Date:Mar 30, 1992
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