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Nonprofit offers utility assistance after moratorium date

The Utility Emergency Services Fund will be offering assistance to customers with high utility bills after the moratorium date tomorrow

TOMORROW'S April Fools' Day also marks the end of a winterlong moratorium on utility shutoffs for cash-strapped Philadelphians - but a local nonprofit says it can still help residents behind on their bills.

Officials said the Utility Emergency Service Fund will still be able to aid delinquent customers seeking to keep the lights and the heat on, and the water running.

For the past 30 years, the nonprofit has been providing assistance to customers with high utility bills. Since then, the fund has prevented water shutoffs for more than 160,000 Philadelphia customers of PECO, Philadelphia Gas Works and the Philadelphia Water Department.

To be accepted for a grant, applicants must meet income guidelines and be residents of Philadelphia. Those who are in need of assistance may visit one of 18 intake sites.

"This winter has been particularly bad for low-income families," executive director John Rowe said. "Many have to decide whether to pay for basic necessities like food or pay for heat."

The leading cause of homelessness is the inability to pay utilities, Rowe said. Between July 2012 and July 2013, the fund served move than 6,500 individuals and 97 percent of them were able to stay in their homes.

Rowe said the fund is expecting to help roughly the same number of people this year.

"The demand is incredible. We never see an end to assistance," Rowe said.

Every grant dollar is matched by PECO, PGW or the Water Department. A grant of $250, for example, is actually worth $500 in aid.

Funding comes from individual donations, corporate sponsorships, and the Community Development Block Grant.

"These families are in danger of having their utilities ended," Rowe said.

"We want these families to know that we have the funds right now to help you."

Consumers interested in aid should call the fund at 215-972-5170 or contact them online at