Utilities

Comedian Spike Milligan once joked that “And God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light, but the Electricity Board said He would have to wait until Thursday to be connected.”

Electricity, gas and water play a major role in everyday life. People rely on these utilities and going without them can be a great hardship and can even be life threatening.  During these past summer months, many people turned up their air conditioners and fans as the heat index rose to over 100 degrees, which may have caused a corresponding surge in an electric bill that the consumer may not have the ability to pay. In order to address this problem and avoid utility shut-offs, there are programs and protections available to utility customers.

Pennsylvania law requires that most utility companies have programs to help low-income customers keep their utility service. The following is an overview of some of those programs. 

LIHEAP – Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program

WAP – Weatherization Assistance Program

Winter Shut-off Protection

  • December 1st through March 31st

  • Protections from termination for qualified low-income families

Special Disconnection Protections

  • Usually must show that customer suffers from financial hardship and/or is part of vulnerable group

  • Applies only to regulated utilities

  • Financial hardship, elderly, low-income

  • Serious illness or disability

  • Payment plan may be necessary

  • Duration and renewability vary

  • Consumers remain responsible for current and past due bills

Budget Billing

  • Available to all customers at no cost

  • Attempts to even out energy bills each month (no highs in summer/winter)

  • Annual utility costs divided over 12-month period

  • One regular monthly payment

  • Adjustments can be made for higher/lower usage

  • Allows for more precise budget

CAP - Customer Assistance Program

  • Trouble paying your utility bills

  • CAP can lower monthly utility bill

  • Income evaluation required – calculation based on percentage of income or discounted rate

  • On time payments required

  • Full payments required

These are just some of the programs that available to assist consumers with managing their utility bills. For a complete list of the programs, you can also visit the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission website at http://www.puc.state.pa.us/consumer_info/electricity/energy_assistance_programs.aspx. You may also visit the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project (PULP) website at http://www.rhls.org/utilities/pulp/. For information about your eligibility for programs, contact your utility company.

Medicare and Medicaid – What is the Difference?

The programs differ significantly in the people that each cover, so it helps to know the difference. Some people do qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid at the same time.

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Medicare

Medicare is designed as an insurance program for people aged 65 and older who have paid into the Medicare trusts through paycheck deductions. Medicare also covers younger disabled people as well as dialysis patients. Those on Medicare must pay certain deductibles and can pay small monthly premiums for non-hospital coverage.

Much of the confusion with Medicare is caused by its parts – there are 4 parts – Medicare Parts A, B, C, and D.

[1] https://www.hhs.gov/answers/medicare-and-medicaid/what-is-the-difference-between-medicare-medicaid/index.html

[2] https://boomerbenefits.com/new-to-medicare/parts-of-medicare/

Medicare Part A is free to most people who have worked at least 10 years in the United States or is married to someone who is 62 and has worked that amount of time. This part covers costs associated with hospital stays.

Medicare Part B is medical insurance for outpatient services and covers doctor visits, lab testing and surgeries deemed medically necessary.

When a person signs up for Medicare at the Social Security offices Parts A & B are the parts he/she are signing up to receive.

Medicare Part C are private health care plans that a person can choose as an alternative to Medicare Parts A, B and D. That person would get the benefits of A, B, and D from a private insurer. There are costs associated with these plans because they are private plans.

Medicare Part D is optional and helps to lower the cost of prescription drugs. In order to sign up for Medicare Part D, a person must select one of the Part D plans available in his/her county from private insurance carriers.

The choice of which parts of Medicare, if any, to participate in is entirely up to the people who qualify for Medicare.

 

Medicaid

Medicaid is an assistance program. In Pennsylvania it is usually called Medical Assistance. Eligibility is mainly based on income. Pennsylvania residents, depending primarily on area of residence in the state, access their Medical Assistance (MA) benefits through either fee-for-service or Medicaid managed care. All participants receive an ACCESS card.

Medicaid patients may have more than one type of insurance and some people have both Medicaid and medicare or Medicaid and private insurance. In cases where there are two insurance providers, Medicaid is the secondary insurance.

Eligibility is determined by being part of a particular group such as pregnant women, children, older adults, or disabled adults, and also by meeting financial and citizenship requirements. Some people are eligible because of a temporary disability, or because they are caring for a disabled family member. In this situation the physician plays an important role in helping the patient obtain Medical Assistance[3].


[3] http://www.phlp.org/home-page/providers/provider-faq/medical-assistance-in-pa-frequently-asked-questions

 

Domestic Violence/Intimate Partner Violence

“On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States — more than 12 million women and men over the course of a year”[1].

See something, say something. Speak up and speak out. 

Please know that you are not alone. Please seek support and assistance.

 

SAFE BERKS - 24/7 Hotline: 844-789-SAFE or Text SAFE BERKS to 20121

 COUNTY OF BERKS COURTHOUSE - OPEN 24/7 for EMERGENCY PFAs

ABUSE CAN TAKE MANY FORMS

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TYPES OF PROTECTION ORDERS AVAILABLE IN PENNSYLVANIA

PROTECTION FROM ABUSE ORDER (PFA)

WHAT IS A PFA?

  • A Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) is a civil order that provides protection from harm by family or household members, sexual or intimate partners, or someone with whom you have a child in common. A PFA can extend for a period of up to three years.

 

WHO CAN FILE ONE?

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  • A person can file for a PFA order from the court for themselves, or on behalf of their minor children. A PFA describes various types of protections for the victim. For example, a PFA order can make it illegal for the abuser to contact, harass and abuse the victim and the victim’s children, it may order the abuser to return personal property. An abusers violation of a PFA may result in criminal charges[2].

  •  PFA Orders are free for the person seeking protection. In most cases, the defendant will have to pay for all or part of the PFA process. Otherwise, the county must pay.

PROTECTION FROM SEXUAL VIOLENCE OR INTIMIDATION ORDER

WHAT IS A PROTECTION FROM SEXUAL VIOLENCE OR INTIMIDATION ORDER?

  • A civil order that provides protection for victims of sexual violence or intimidation that can be filed against someone who is not a family or household member or intimate partner.

 WHO CAN FILE ONE?

  • For the purpose of getting a Protection from Sexual Violence or Intimidation Order, the abuser must have committed one of two crimes against you: “sexual violence” or “intimidation” (although the abuser does not have to be arrested/reported to the police).

PROTECTION ORDER PROCESS

WHERE CAN YOU FILE A PROTECTION ORDER?

  • PFA Office - Berks County Services Center - 633 Court Street, 1st Floor

  • The PFA Office hours are 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The PFA FILING hours are 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. After PFA filing hours, PFA staff can assist you with applying for an Emergency PFA from the local Magisterial District Judge or you can go to Reading Central Court on the 1st floor of the Courthouse after 6:00 p.m. weekdays and on weekends or holidays.

 STEPS FOR GETTING A PROTECTION ORDER

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 PROTECTION ORDER HEARING PROCESS

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This service is for general legal information only and does not contain legal advice.  Using this site does not form an attorney/client relationship.  This information is provided as a public service, and you should not act or refrain from acting based upon anything you read on the MLP Monologue. While we strive to provide current and accurate information, all of the information provided by the MLP Monologue is provided “as is” without warranty of any kind, whether expressed or implied. If you are in need of legal advice, contact the Berks Bar Association (610-375-4591) or MidPenn Legal (610-376-8656).


Foreclosures

Foreclosures

“Well, actually, if you can stay in your home that is a better deal for the neighborhood. It's certainly a better deal for the person that is in their home, rather than to be on the street and for that house to go into foreclosure and become a problem for the whole community”. These words from former United States Representative John Garamendi (California) help to highlight the issues that surround foreclosure and urge the importance of learning about the foreclosure process.

Mortgage Loan

When a person (“Borrower”) takes out a loan to purchase a residential property in Pennsylvania, he/she typically signs a promissory note and a mortgage. A promissory note is basically an IOU that contains the promise to repay the loan, as well as the terms for repayment. The mortgage provides security for the loan that is evidenced by a promissory note.

Missed Payments

            Most loans include a grace period after which time the loan servicer (“Lender”) can assess a late fee under the terms of the promissory note. Generally, if a Borrower misses more than one payment, federal mortgage servicing laws requires the Lender to contact the Borrower by phone and in writing following missed payments. This creates an opportunity for the Borrower to possibly avoid foreclosure through options like loan modification, forbearance, or payment plans.

Notice of Intent to Foreclose

Federal law generally requires that the Lender waits until a Borrower is more than 120 days delinquent before officially starting a foreclosure. Pennsylvania requires that the loan servicer seeking to foreclose give a 30-day notice of intent to foreclose, which gives the Borrower the opportunity to cure the default. If the home is abandoned, notice is not required. A new ruling now requires that Lenders send a new notice of intent to foreclose before starting a second foreclosure. In addition, notice must be provided explaining the Borrower’s rights and describing what help is available - programs such as the PA Housing Finance Agency’s Homeowners’ Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (HEMAP). The notice must also tell the Borrower of the default and give 30 days (plus 3 days to account for mailing time) to have a face-to-face meeting with a local consumer credit counseling agency to try to resolve the default.

The Foreclosure Process

Foreclosures in Pennsylvania are judicial and are a civil action which means that the Lender (Plaintiff) must file a foreclosure complaint against a Borrower (Defendant), also called the mortgagor(s) and real owner(s) of the property, and both parties must follow the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure. In some states, lenders do not have to go through the court system to foreclose – these are known as non-judicial foreclosures.

A foreclosure is for repossession of property only. A Lender cannot put a Borrower in jail, cannot take personal property or bank accounts. If the house that was foreclosed does not sell at a Sheriff’s sale for the amount that is owed by a Borrower, a Lender would have to file a separate action against the Borrower for the deficiency.

Berks County Court of Common Pleas Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program

            Residents of Berks County may be eligible for a Foreclosure Diversion Program that is available for free to those who qualify. Notice of the program will be sent along with other paperwork from the Court. This program assists people to save their homes.

Foreclosure Defenses

Listed below are common defenses that a Borrower may be able to assert in a foreclosure action.

  • Notice Defenses

  • Servicing Defenses

  • Breach of Contract

  • Violation of Duty of Good Faith and Fair Dealing

  • Origination Defenses

  • Standing

  • Other Statutory and Common Law Defenses

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This service is for general legal information only and does not contain legal advice.  Using this site does not form an attorney/client relationship.  This information is provided as a public service, and you should not act or refrain from acting based upon anything you read on the MLP Monologue. While we strive to provide current and accurate information, all of the information provided by the MLP Monologue is provided “as is” without warranty of any kind, whether expressed or implied. If you are in need of legal advice, contact the Berks Bar Association (610-375-4591) or MidPenn Legal (610-376-8656).


Disability - SSDI or SSI?

Mahatma Ghandi once said “a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” The U.S. government, through the Social Security Administration (“SSA”), oversees two programs dedicated to the ‘weakest members’ of society who are found to be disabled. These programs - Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) – both provide cash payments to people who meet the federal definition of disabled, but they differ significantly.

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SSDI pays benefits only if a person is insured and found to be disabled. The SSA will look at a claimant’s work history and the amount of Social Security Taxes that have been paid by the claimant in order to determine whether or not the claimant is insured. The claimant must then still prove that he/she is disabled in order to receive any benefits.

SSI pays benefits based on financial need if a person is found to be disabled but does not have sufficient work history to qualify for insurance under SSDI. The elderly, children, and people who are blind or disabled usually qualify under SSI rather than SSDI. Just as with SSDI claimants, an SSI claimant must prove that he/she meets the federal definition of disabled prior to receiving any benefits. An SSI claimant must also pass a resource test in order to qualify for benefits. The SSI resource test allows single claimants to have $3,000 in income and assets and still qualify for SSI.

SSA’s Definition of Disabled – “the inability to engage in any substantial gainful work activity because of a severe and medically provable physical or mental impairment or impairments which has either lasted or can be expected to last for twelve continuous months or to result in death”.

The SSA uses a 5-step process to evaluate whether or not a claimant meets the federal definition of disabled. If the claim fails at any step in the process, the claimant is found to be not disabled.

SSA’s 5-Step Evaluation Process

1.    Are you working? (Substantial Gainful Activity)

  • If a person is earning more than $1,220 a month, he/she cannot be considered disabled.

2.    Is your condition severe?

  • Individual must have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment (or combination) that is severe and meets duration requirements (12 months+).

3.    Is your condition found in the list of disabling conditions?

  • If the condition is not on the list, is it as severe as a medical condition on the list.

4.    Can you do the work you did previously? (Residual Functional Capacity)

  • It is an accounting of an individual’s capacity for full time work - maximum ability to do sustained work related physical and mental activities on a regular continuing basis (8 hours a day, for 5 days a week) despite the limitations and restrictions resulting from his or her medically determinable impairment.

  • If a person can, he/she does not have a qualifying disability.

5.    Can you do any other type of work?

  • SSA will look at other work you could do despite your impairment(s).

  • Residual Functional Capacity, age, education and work experience are considered to see if claimant can make adjustment to other work.

For more information regarding SSDI and/or SSI, please visit https://www.ssa.gov/.


Legal Eagle Extras by Managing Attorney Molly I. Sanders, Esquire

  • 70-80% of all initial Social Security claims are denied.

  • The process is extremely long and can take years to reach a final determination.


This service is for general legal information only and does not contain legal advice.  Using this site does not form an attorney/client relationship.  This information is provided as a public service, and you should not act or refrain from acting based upon anything you read on the MLP Monologue. While we strive to provide current and accurate information, all of the information provided by the MLP Monologue is provided “as is” without warranty of any kind, whether expressed or implied. If you are in need of legal advice, contact the Berks Bar Association (610-375-4591) or MidPenn Legal (610-376-8656).


TANF & SNAP

While the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP) were both designed to assist low-income families, there are a number of differences between the two. Below are descriptions of the two programs:

 

TANF – Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

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  • TANF provides families funds to pay bills, utilities, and other necessities

  • TANF is temporary. Recipients are limited to receiving benefits for only 60 months during their lifetimes.

  • The amounts in the chart on the left are the total received in a month.

  • It is received twice a month.

  • Grants are reduced if families receive other income.

  • Unless exempt, TANF recipients must take part in welfare-to-work programs.

  • For more information about TANF, visit: http://www.dhs.pa.gov/citizens/cashassistance/index.htm

SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps)

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  • Provides eligible families with funds to purchase food items.

  • Families and individuals are eligible for SNAP benefits even if they are working.

  • Eligibility can be limited by income and resources.

  • SNAP grants increase based on some household expenses (unlike TANF).

  • A SNAP household includes everyone who customarily purchases and prepares meals together, plus some “mandatory members.”

  • For more information about SNAP, visit: http://www.dhs.pa.gov/citizens/supplementalnutritionassistanceprogram/index.htm


This service is for general legal information only and does not contain legal advice.  Using this site does not form an attorney/client relationship.  This information is provided as a public service, and you should not act or refrain from acting based upon anything you read on the MLP Monologue. While we strive to provide current and accurate information, all of the information provided by the MLP Monologue is provided “as is” without warranty of any kind, whether expressed or implied. If you are in need of legal advice, contact the Berks Bar Association (610-375-4591) or MidPenn Legal (610-376-8656).


CONSIDERING RENTING? TAKE THESE STEPS BEFORE SIGNING A LEASE

Benjamin Franklin once wrote that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. This is especially true in the world of tenant advocacy.

Tenants need to be proactive by ASKING QUESTIONS before signing a lease, such as:

  • Who is the landlord or agent?

  • How much is the rent?

  • When is the rent due?

  • To whom and where should the rent be paid?

  • Is a security deposit required?

  • To whom should problems and repairs be referred?

  • Will the lease be oral or in writing?

  • How long is the lease?

  • Who is responsible for utilities (electric, water, gas, etc.?)

  • What are the rules and regulations?

This is a vital part of the leasing process. Knowing the answers to these questions can prevent issues from arising, and the tenant should make sure that the answers given are included in any lease agreement.

Tenants also need to be proactive and INSPECT any potential rental property prior to making a lease agreement and prior to moving in to the property. Landlords of rental units are required to provide a working stove and refrigerator. Tenants should inspect to see that:

  • Kitchen appliances are in working order

  • Water pressure is strong, and plumbing is without leaks

  • Electrical outlets and wiring are working and in good condition

  • Walls and ceilings are painted or papered without cracks

  • Floors and railings are in good condition

  • Bathrooms are in working condition

  • Fire escape is easy to use

  • Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are present and working

  • Stairs are safe and well-lit

  • Rodents or insects are not present

  • Ventilation, air conditioning, and heating system is in working order

  • Windows and doors are operable and weather-tight, and screens are provided.

Tenants should not rely on promises from a landlord to correct issues prior to moving in to the property. Ensure that any issues are corrected prior to signing a lease agreement. During the inspection note any damage to the property and, if possible, take pictures of the damage. If the tenant decides to rent the property, note the damage on the lease so that the tenant is not charged for the damage at move out.

An extremely important part of the leasing process is to READ THE ENTIRE LEASE if you have a written lease. In the age of Google, it is easy to download leases off the internet, but that does not mean that they are good leases. Both the tenant and the landlord should understand the terms in the lease prior to signing because the lease should outline the rights and responsibilities of each of the parties. Tenants can always contact the Berks County Bar Association, (610) 375-4591, which offers residential lease/rent-to-own lease reviews by attorneys for persons of limited means for a small fee. Tenants can also visit City Hall’s Property Maintenance Division to make sure that any potential property is in compliance with city ordinances and has proper rental permits. If the property is not in compliance or does not have proper permits, do not rent.

By advocating for oneself as a tenant and following Ben Franklin’s advice about prevention, a knowledgeable tenant can work to improve property conditions in the City of Reading and prevent landlord/tenant issues from occurring.


This service is for general legal information only and does not contain legal advice.  Using this site does not form an attorney/client relationship.  This information is provided as a public service, and you should not act or refrain from acting based upon anything you read on the MLP Monologue. While we strive to provide current and accurate information, all of the information provided by the MLP Monologue is provided “as is” without warranty of any kind, whether expressed or implied. If you are in need of legal advice, contact the Berks Bar Association (610-375-4591) or MidPenn Legal (610-376-8656).





THE EVICTION PROCESS – WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

The eviction process can be confusing for both landlords and tenants. Both sides should be aware of the legal basis for eviction and the requirements for landlords wanting to end a tenancy to ensure rights are being protected.

Landlords can seek to evict a tenant ONLY if:

  • A tenant does not pay rent

  • A tenant does not follow the terms in the written or oral lease agreement

  • The time period for which the tenant rented is over, and the landlord wants the tenant out.

There are a number of steps in the eviction process, which include:

  1. Written Notice (may be waived or shortened in the lease) – Written by the landlord, provides 10 days to vacate for non-payment of rent; 15 days to vacate for breach of lease or for the end of lease term

  2. Landlord/Tenant Complaint – After the 10- or 15-day notice period ends, the landlord can file a Landlord/Tenant Complaint. The Magisterial District Judge court schedules the hearing within 7-15 days of filing. The landlord may ask for possession of the property and monetary damages for unpaid rent and damage to the property. The tenant will receive notice of the time and place for the hearing.

  3. Court Hearing (Magisterial District Judge) – The MDJ will make a decision either at the hearing or within 3 days after the hearing. If the MDJ grants a judgement for possession to the landlord, the landlord can seek an Order for Possession after a 10-day appeal period.

  4. If No Appeal Filed – The landlord can file for an Order of Possession 10 days after the MDJ judgement. The tenant is then given another 10-day notice to leave the premises. If the tenant does not leave after the 20-day period, the landlord can legally have the constable or sheriff physically remove the tenant.

  5. Appeal Filed (can be requested by either party) – If the MDJ grants a judgement for possession to the landlord, a tenant can file an appeal within 10 days to the Court of Common Pleas. A Notice of the Appeal must be served to the landlord and the MDJ. The tenant must also deposit money in order to request supersedeas (stay of legal proceeding). ¨     If the tenant cannot afford filing fees, he/she can file to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP). If IFP is granted, then the amount is 1/3 of one month’s rent at the time of filing, and the remaining 2/3 within 20 days of filing the appeal. Otherwise the payment is equal to the lesser of three (3) months’ rent or the rent actually in arrears. The tenant must also make rental payments every 30 calendar days to the Office of the Prothonotary during the appeal.


This service is for general legal information only and does not contain legal advice.  Using this site does not form an attorney/client relationship.  This information is provided as a public service, and you should not act or refrain from acting based upon anything you read on the MLP Monologue. While we strive to provide current and accurate information, all of the information provided by the MLP Monologue is provided “as is” without warranty of any kind, whether expressed or implied. If you are in need of legal advice, contact the Berks Bar Association (610-375-4591) or MidPenn Legal (610-376-8656).