Pennsylvania is once again offering free air conditioning units and repair services this summer to eligible residents.

As the Philadelphia area braces for a potentially record-breaking hot summer, with forecasts predicting 2024 might be the warmest year globally, the state provides crucial cooling aid. Nic Horting, Director of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s Center for Residential Reinvestment Programs, emphasized the high demand and necessity for such programs, stating, “Our objective is to ensure healthy living conditions for those who couldn’t otherwise afford these home improvements.”

This marks the third year that Pennsylvania will utilize funds from the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to support its cooling assistance initiative. Eligible families may receive up to two Energy Star–rated air conditioners, a combination of one air conditioner and a fan, or services to fix or replace a non-functional central air system or heat pump.

Unlike some states, Pennsylvania’s program does not cover electricity costs. Last year, the program distributed over 3,000 air conditioning units, and 300 fans, and conducted hundreds of system repairs and replacements, as per the DCED reports.

This year, the program has $5.3 million to allocate, funded by leftover heating assistance funds, which is expected to assist approximately 2,400 households—a decrease from the previous year.

Enrollment Details:

Eligibility is limited to those who received LIHEAP assistance from last November through April or are currently benefiting from federally funded weatherization support. Individuals who have recently received weatherization assistance or a LIHEAP crisis grant will likely be contacted by their local agencies about the cooling program. Others, particularly those who have received LIHEAP cash grants, should reach out to their local weatherization agencies, as direct application to the cooling program is not possible.

The program offering air conditioners and fans will conclude on August 31.

Challenges with Cooling Costs:

Access to air conditioning is one thing, but affording it is another. Victoria Miles-Chambliss of Empowered CDC highlighted the dilemma faced by many: running an air conditioner can significantly increase electricity bills, forcing tough choices between cooling and other essentials like medication.

While states like Delaware allow LIHEAP funds to address summer electricity bills, Pennsylvania’s current LIHEAP cooling pilot is confined to providing air conditioning units or system repairs only. A survey by Esperanza and Community Legal Services found that while few lacked air conditioners, the majority struggled with summer energy costs, with many limiting their A/C use to avoid shut-off notices.

Advocacy for Year-Round Bill Assistance:

Based on community feedback, several organizations are advocating for Pennsylvania to extend LIHEAP bill assistance throughout the year to include both heating and cooling. This change would prevent residents from having to choose between the two, according to Joline Price of Community Legal Services.

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services acknowledges the potential benefits of a summer cooling program and is considering it for future implementation, dependent on available funding and detailed program analysis.