The deadline to apply for assistance under the federally funded Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program has been extended to April 26.

The program, administered in Pennsylvania by the Department of Public Welfare, assists income-eligible utility customers having trouble paying their electric bills. Those customers don't have to have an unpaid bill to qualify and don't need to be a public assistance recipient to apply.

State officials said prudent planning and running an efficient program allowed them to extend the deadline by nearly a month. The original application deadline was March 29.

So far this winter, more than $4.1 million has gone to assist more than 20,000 PPL Electric Utilities customers.

LIHEAP provides cash grants to help utility customers with heating bills and crisis grants to help them cope with emergency situations. As of March 22, the state said it had received more than 485,000 applications for cash assistance and more than 86,000 crisis grant applications.

Cash grants are based on household income, family size, region and type of heating source or fuel. In addition to proof of income and household size, applicants must provide a recent bill or a statement from their fuel dealer or utility verifying their customer status.

Eligible customers can apply online for LIHEAP funding at www.compass.state.pa.us or visit PPL Electric Utilities' website, www.pplelectric.com/billhelp. They also can apply in person at county assistance offices and can call the statewide toll-free hotline at 1-866-857-7095 with questions.

For PPL Electric Utilities customers with an active OnTrack account, a cash grant through LIHEAP could result in an account credit. Those customers should not make an OnTrack payment until they have exhausted all of the credits that appear on their monthly OnTrack electric bill.

The utility has a variety of programs to help its customers manage their energy bills, including OnTrack and the Winter Relief Assistance Program. For more information, visit www.pplelectric.com/billhelp.