Resources can help beat cold

Despite reflecting significant improvement, the numbers reported last week by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission related to its annual mid-winter resurvey of households without heat-related electric and natural gas utility service still indicate a serious basis for concern.

But most of the blame for the troubling numbers shouldn’t be directed at the PUC or the electric and natural gas companies serving commonwealth customers.

Instead, the big problem is the utility customers who, struggling to stay warm and safe during the winter months, nevertheless fail to seek help that’s available to them — for whatever reason.

There are a number of help options available to low-income households, either through PUC-required assistance programs accessible to customers through a call to their utilities or by way of the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.

It’s hard to imagine how some families without heat coped with the brutal temperatures that Pennsylvania endured around the holiday season — and how those people have continued to cope with the less-brutal but still-dangerous temperatures that have been experienced at times since then.

Meanwhile, there’s probably still a month or more before consistently warmer temperatures settle over Pennsylvania, so it’s not too late to explore the available help options, not only for the rest of this winter, but for next winter, if the need for help persists.

No doubt among those without heat are people who’ve never had to seek help in the past and who feel embarrassed about the prospect of pursuing assistance, despite difficulties beyond their control having befallen them.

They should abandon that reluctance. No one living in this state at this time should have to freeze.

Unfortunately, the numbers released by the PUC last week indicate that many people are in fact continuing to live in dangerous conditions or are endangering themselves by use of potentially unsafe heating sources, such as kitchen stoves or ovens or electric space heaters.

The PUC resurvey in question was a follow-up to its annual 2017 Cold Weather Survey conducted prior to the start of the winter heating season.

According to a PUC press release, regulated electric and natural gas utilities are required to survey residential properties where service was terminated and not reconnected during the course of the calendar year.

According to the resurvey, as of Feb. 2 of this year, 13,522 Pennsylvania homes still were identified as being without a central heating source or using potentially unsafe heat, compared with the 19,295 reported in the initial Cold Weather Survey. An additional 1,420 homes were identified as vacant.

While the figure of 13,522 reflects a 30 percent improvement, that improvement number still is grossly unacceptable.

But the utilities, as part of each year’s Cold Weather Survey, make at least four attempts to contact customers who are known to be without heat-related utility service — by telephone calls, letters and personal visits.

It’s difficult to help if people choose not to avail themselves of the help available.

How many children might be caught up in such circumstances is a sobering thought.

The challenge for communities in Blair and surrounding counties — and throughout the rest of the state –is to pay attention regarding potential need and then be generous with guidance to help end whatever such suffering might lie within their borders.