A Castor Gardens woman who has seen 20 percent shaved from her gas bill for the past 10 years now is going to be paying full price.
The woman, who asked not to be identified, is 75 years old and has been getting the Philadelphia Gas Works senior discount since 2004, when she turned 65. The savings were pretty good, she said. More than 60 bucks were cut from one of her recent winter bills.
So why now, after 10 years, is she no longer eligible for the senior citizen discount? PGW’s answer is the woman never should have gotten the discount at all.
The Castor Gardens resident said she recently received a letter from PGW that said she is ineligible for the program because she was born after Aug. 31, 1938, and that the utility isn’t accepting any further applications.
That’s right, PGW spokesman Barry O’Sullivan said April 3.
When the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission assumed regulatory jurisdiction over the city’s gas works in 2003, it told PGW to stop offering the senior discount, O’Sullivan said.
Those who were 65 and getting the discount remained in the program. The Castor Gardens resident’s husband got the discount. It was his name that was on the gas bill for the couple’s Longshore Avenue home. Shortly after her husband died in 2004, she turned 65, and dutifully went to a PGW office with proofs of her identity to put her name on her account. While she was at it, she applied for — and got — the senior citizen discount.
The problem now is that she shouldn’t ever have gotten into that program, O’Sullivan said. She simply wasn’t eligible then and isn’t eligible now. The woman was not born before Aug. 31, 1938. Although 65 when she applied for the discount, she was born in 1939.
Right now, O’Sullivan said, about 23,000 of PGW’s roughly half-million customers are getting the senior citizen discount. The other bill payers subsidize the program, he said.
Eligibility is tied to age and that 1938 date. There is no income eligibility.
“We check our recipients regularly, and recently added some enhancements to the way we audit the accounts enrolled in the senior discount program,” O’Sullivan wrote in an April 4 email to the Northeast Times.
Those enhancements, he wrote, suggested a couple hundred, or not even 1 percent, of those discount recipients really weren’t eligible for it. In March, the utility started sending out letters with the bad news to those ineligible seniors.
“We send each of those customers a letter letting them know what we’ve discovered, and giving them the opportunity to update the information we have for them.”
When asked if the new reading of the rolls of the discounted had anything to do with the proposed sale of PGW, he said no.
“We do these reviews often, and have been doing them for a long time,” he wrote April 4. “We get a little better each time at ensuring the programs are operating as intended.”
O’Sullivan added that PGW wants to make sure people are enrolled in programs that are best for them. There is a customer assistance program for low-income households that he said is underused.
“We know that a significant number of households that appear to meet eligibility criteria have not enrolled,” he wrote April 4. “Hard to say if they haven’t heard of the program, or are reluctant to sign up for some reason.”
For more information, visit www.pgworks.com ••