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Dollar Energy Fund Celebrates 38 Years

Posted on: April 15, 2021

On April 19, 2021, Dollar Energy Fund will mark its 38th anniversary of helping our neighbors in need with utility assistance. What began as a small community effort, has grown to become one of the largest hardship funds for limited-income families across the country.

Our History

Dollar Energy Fund was founded on April 19, 1983, in Western Pennsylvania by a coalition of concerned community and business leaders.

In 1983, Betty Ann Simon was working as a volunteer for KDKA’s “Call for Action,” a program that helped people find agencies to assist them in solving problems. She found herself inundated with calls from low-income individuals seeking help with their mounting utility bills. Betty Ann was compelled to help, so she reached out to her contacts from various regional religious and social agencies. This led local religious and community leaders to recognize that far too many of their less fortunate neighbors were unable to afford the cost of heat, electricity and water. In response to the growing crisis, a coalition of 24 community leaders formed Dollar Energy Fund.

Dollar Energy Fund was headquartered at Synod Hall in the Saint Paul Cathedral in Oakland. The grassroots effort started contacting utility companies and executives agreed to contribute on a dollar-for-dollar basis. For every dollar raised, the utility company would also give one dollar to help a family in need. During its first year, Dollar Energy Fund’s Hardship Program distributed $397,200 to 1,218 households in Pennsylvania.

Betty Ann worked tirelessly for two decades directly addressing the daily struggles faced by thousands of limited-income households in Pennsylvania. From her position as a founder in 1983, to her active service on the Board until her passing in 2002, she focused on developing ways to immediately provide assistance to families facing difficulties in affording safe and adequate utility service.

Our organization has since grown to become the largest hardship fund in Pennsylvania and one of the largest in the country. For 38 years, we’ve served the limited-income community by providing $170 million in utility assistance grants to more than 605,000 limited-income families and individuals.

Our Partnerships

Dollar Energy Fund began with three utility partners – Duquesne Light Company, Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania, and Peoples Natural Gas – and 24 community-based agencies in Western Pennsylvania. We expanded beyond Pennsylvania in 2008 with the addition of a Hardship Program in West Virginia. Since then, we’ve extended our reach into Ohio, Virginia, Tennessee and Maryland in 2009; Texas and Louisiana in 2011; Arkansas in 2013; California and Kentucky in 2014; Connecticut in 2016; Indiana in 2019; and most recently, Nebraska in 2020.

Today, our organization administers Hardship Programs for more than 45 utility companies across 14 states. Dollar Energy Fund partners with over 450 community-based organizations throughout our service territory. These organizations handle application intake for our programs while also connecting those in need with other forms of assistance. This approach puts at-risk households in touch with additional services—such as food, childcare and career assistance.

Our Unique Funding Model

As Betty Ann Simon intended, our unique funding model provides a dollar-for-dollar match from our partnering utility companies for almost every donation we receive. The utility companies also make a separate donation to cover our administrative fees, so 100 percent of all individual donations are used to provide utility assistance grants to limited-income households.

Looking Forward

Though much has changed since 1983, many aspects of Dollar Energy Fund remain the same. The majority of funding is obtained through private donations and matching utility shareholder credits; each Hardship Program application is reviewed individually; and the focus is still on our clients and the mission of helping neighbors in need.

As Dollar Energy Fund continues to expand, so does the need for utility assistance. Dollar Energy Fund is still working to fulfill its mission of helping families on their path to self-sufficiency. If you would like to help a neighbor in need, please visit www.dollarenergy.org/donate.

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Average Monthly Income of a Grant Recipient = $1,102.62