Southern California utility customers are expected to see lower home heating cost increases this coming winter than to the north and elsewhere in the nation. Southern California Gas and San Diego Gas & Electric customers are expected to pay 4 percent and 2 percent more, respectively, than they did last year, according to Denise King, spokesperson for the two Sempra Energy utilities. The average monthly natural gas bill for houses in Southern California Gas territory is expected to run $93 this winter compared to $89 last year. Apartment dwellers may see a hike too. Low income customers are likely to see their monthly gas bill increase from an average of $51 last year to $53 a month this year, according to King. SDG&E customers in houses are expected to pay an average of $69 a month for gas, compared with $67 a month last winter. Low income customers can expect to pay a dollar a month more, or an average of $38 compared to $37 last winter, King said. Combined, the utilities have 2 million low-income customers. \u201cMany of them have difficulty paying their bills,\u201d said King. Yet over the last four years the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program has provided help to just 100,000 of those customers, according to the utilities. Increased funding would allow more low-income customers to receive assistance as home heating bills rise, observed King. \u201cWe encourage Congress to act now so that much needed funds can be disbursed as we enter the winter heating season,\u201d she said.