By Kim Glovas

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Now that we are officially in the winter season, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission wants to make sure any families who are facing a heating crisis can keep the heat on.

The PUC’s Nils Hagen-Frederiksen says a cold weather survey shows the number of homes without heat is down nine-percent from last year, to about 22,000 homes statewide.

But, he says, emergencies happen that result in heat shutoffs:

“Maybe there’s been a change in employment in the household. Another family member has come, a new child. There are a variety of different things that can impact a household budget.”

Hagen-Frederiksen says the problem is many will go to unsafe heat sources instead of seeking help:

“Like kerosene heaters or space heaters, or fireplaces, or they might be going cold, and the big issue for us is there are a large number of assistance programs out there.”

He says there’s nearly $800-million worth of heating assistance in the state. Every utility must operate an assistance program, and the state Department of Human Services has LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program).

He adds the key is to contact your utility as soon as possible and ask about the customer assistance program. You can also call DHS at 866-857-7095.