Face to Face Germantown and Community Legal Services of Philadelphia hosted their second annual Free Utility Clinic on Monday to provide Philadelphia residents with hands-on assistance with their utility bills.
“A lot of people are unable to afford their electric, gas, and water service. When you lose that service it can mean that you’re no longer able to live in your home comfortably. It may mean that you get evicted, your children may be removed from you, and seniors can be at risk,” said Josie Pickens, supervising attorney and code director of energy services at Community Legal Services. “This is the one event where you can come and have advocates from community legal services, representatives from each of the Philadelphia utilities, and grant agencies all in one room. We can help people get their answers immediately. They don’t have to wait for a phone call or a customer service representative.”
Face to Face has serviced the community for 31 years and mainly focuses on legal representation, health, social services, dining and opportunities.
“We want folks to avoid shutoffs. If someone has to choose between paying their rent, utility bills or medication which are they going to pay? I don’t know, it’s a personal decision,” said Anna Brickman, legal center director at Face to Face. “Hopefully we can try to balance out that equation for them of ‘which bill do I pay?’
“We can help them free up their funds to pay for other stuff like food or medicine or whatever it may be,” she added.
This event targets people who are behind in their utility bills, received shut off notices or who have experienced a shutoff. People leave with resolutions, according to Brickman.
And finding a solution is exactly what happened for a resident identified as J.H., who needed help with her utility bill after being out of work for a month.
“It was a blessing that this program came across my path,” shes said. “This took a great deal off of my shoulders. I was backed up on my utility bills and I honestly didn’t know how I was going to do it. I barely had money for food and my mortgage.”
J.H. was able to apply for PGW’s Tap Program and received a better rate with PECO’s Cap Program. She advises residents to come prepared with proper documents to receive help.
“If you’re struggling to afford your bill, there are programs and services available to help you,” Pickens said. “If there are legal obstacles to you getting your name on the bill because you’re not the homeowner and you’re worried about your options, there may be legal options to help prevent your services from being shut off.”