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Step Forward encourages residents to apply for assistance amid rising energy costs

Across Northeast Ohio, electricity rates are increasing. So far this year, at least two utility companies have announced that they will need to charge more for electric.


Starting June 1, Cuyahoga County residents will have to pay between 28-percent and 47-percent more for power. It could lead to some homeowners having to pay at least double than what they were paying before.


“This will undoubtedly impact vulnerable families who were already struggling to make ends meet before,” Paul Billups, Step Forward’s Director of the Home Energy Assistance Program, said. “Such increased costs will strain already tight budgets and limit access to essential energy services.”

Billups confirmed that Step Forward’s HEAP has seen a 30-percent increase in requests for assistance within the last 14 months. Most of the customers who have reached out have needed help paying their electric bills.


“The need is more than we’re able to service,” Billups said.


Understanding rate increases nationwide


According to the Energy Information Administration, most of the electricity used in the United States is produced by burning natural gas, a key fuel for generating electricity. Experts have said natural gas is in short supply nationwide, therefore leading to increased operating costs.


Records show the cost for natural gas spiked to a 14-year high in 2022.


Understanding rate increases in Ohio


According to the Ohio Public Utilities Commission (PUCO), Ohio utility companies submitted their Standard Service Offer (SSO) during electricity auctions in Fall 2022, when wholesale electricity prices were at their highest in recent years. The Standard Service Offer is the rate for customers who opt not to shop. Those who pay the SSO are the individuals and families who will experience significant rate hikes in 2023.


In 2001, Ohio established the Energy Choice Program. It lets customers compare electric prices and energy suppliers. Those who shop can choose a different supplier, and therefore, potentially find a better rate.


Residents can shop by visiting this website. Choose your service provider, which can be found on previous utility bills, and you will be provided with a list of suppliers, their rates, rate types, and more.


It may take one or two billing cycles before the new rate takes effect.


Step Forward's Home Energy Assistance Program offers relief

Since 2020, Step Forward’s Home Energy Assistance Program has helped more than 62,500 households and distributed more than $11,763,850. During the 2022 Summer Cooling Program, which ran July 1-September 30, Step Forward’s HEAP provided more than $431,000 in assistance. The program also provided families with 789 air conditioning units and 1,375 fans.


“During times of financial hardship, seeking assistance for utility bills can provide much-needed relief,” Billups said. “I encourage individuals and families who are struggling to pay their utility bills to reach out to us for help sooner rather than later.”


Step Forward’s HEAP offers two year-round services, including the Fuel Fund and PIPP+. The Fuel Fund is available for people who need assistance paying their electric bill, have made a payment within the last 90 days and have not utilized the program in the past year. Qualifying individuals with FirstEnergy can receive up to $500.


The Percentage of Income Payment Plan is for people who can pay a percentage of their household income each month, would prefer a consistent payment plan and those who want to work toward eliminating outstanding energy bills. PIPP+ helps eligible households maintain gas and electric services throughout the year by paying the utility company a percentage of their household income. If the monthly payments are made on time and in full, overages and the rest of the month’s bills are forgiven.


“PIPP+ allows residents to take charge of their energy bills and not let the high energy costs dictate their financial stability,” Billups explained. “It’s an empowering program that can provide relief and ensure energy bills remain manageable.”


Billups also expects more applicants for the 2023 Summer Cooling Program, which is scheduled to open in July. The Summer Cooling Program is available for income-eligible individuals and families who need assistance with their cooling bills, need household fans and/or an air conditioner, those are 60 years of age and older or have a documented medical need.


Ohio’s Department of Development issued the following information about the 2023 Summer Crisis Program June 1:

2023-21 ATTACHMENT - 2023 SCP Benefit Table
.pdf
Download PDF • 120KB

For more information about Step Forward’s Home Energy Assistance Program, and to apply for assistance, click here.



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