Although the national economy has experienced modest growth, some of our residential and business customers continue to struggle. As the cost of living increases, there is less disposable income available which creates hardships for customers who are at times forced to choose which basic human needs they can afford. To assist our customers, we use energy efficiency programs and consumer education to help customers reduce their electricity consumption. We also have several energy assistance grants and programs to help customers. Through grants, we provided approximately $56.9 million in federal and private energy assistance in 2014. Funding in 2014 of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, was about the same as in 2013. The LIHEAP program helps low-income families pay their heating and electric bills through cash grants that are paid directly to the utility company.
In September 2014, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) ordered Ohio electric and natural gas utilities to reconnect or maintain service for customers who have been disconnected or are facing disconnection during the winter heating season with an initial reduced payment option. More than 63,000 Ohio utility customers used the winter reconnect program last year and may use the program once during the winter heating season between October 20, 2013 and April 15, 2014.
We also provide other types of aid to assist customers. Our self-serve agency website provides a convenient way for social services agencies to make their pledges via the Internet. In 2014, more than 14,900 pledges were recorded, totaling $2.7 million. In addition, AEP facilitates Neighbor to Neighbor programs in the majority of its states that help customers who are behind on their bills, but whose incomes disqualify them for government assistance. The funds for this program come from customer contributions, as well as AEP grants.
AEP Ohio residential customers can also participate in the PIPP Plus Program. The program allows income-eligible customers to make reduced payments on their utility service bills based on a percentage of the household income and heating source. Customers whose household income is at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty income guidelines are eligible for PIPP Plus. Regulated electric and gas companies in Ohio offer the program to their customers. Customers whose homes are all electric pay 10 percent of the household’s monthly income year round, while customers who do not heat with electricity pay 6 percent of the household’s monthly income year round, each with a minimum $10 payment. AEP Ohio had 146,675 customers participating in the program at the end of 2014.
Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO) helps its customers who are facing financial hardship to heat and cool their homes through their Light A Life Program. Light A Life is a year-round program allowing customers to pay a little extra each month to support customers in need. PSO customers have generously given to the Light A Life program since 1986. In 2014, approximately 760 pledges were recorded, totaling $74,797.