While spring has officially begun, some Pennsylvania consumers still may be struggling to pay winter home heating bills.

PPL Electric Utilities reminds anyone in need of help that LIHEAP applications are now being accepted until April 15.

The company said it offers a number of options to assist customers who need help with their utility bills.

Through March 17, about 44,000 PPL Electric Utilities customers have received $10.1 million in help this winter from LIHEAP, the federally funded Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. That's 49 percent higher than the same period last year when about $6.8 million in LIHEAP grants were awarded to about 27,000 customers.

Recognizing the effects of a colder winter and tough economy, Gov. Tom Corbett announced last week a two-week extension for LIHEAP applications.

The program, which is administered by the state Department of Public Welfare, was scheduled to close March 31.

Households that meet eligibility criteria have extra time to file an application and get help paying their winter heating bills. Pennsylvania is working with $128 million available for LIHEAP grants.

Tim Dahl, PPL Electric Utilities' manager of regulatory programs in Customer Services, said the company's customer service representatives will discuss the LIHEAP application process and other assistance options with customers who contact the utility about difficulties with their bill.

Additionally, PPL Electric Utilities staff also coordinates with local social service agencies to spread the word about available assistance programs.

LIHEAP funds provide customers grants that do not need to be repaid. Recipients don't have to receive public assistance to qualify, and they don't need to have an unpaid utility bill. They can either rent or own their residence, Dahl said.

For those who do not qualify for LIHEAP assistance, if customers are behind in paying their electric bills, PPL Electric Utilities encourages them to call 1-800-358-6623, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, or visit www.pplelectric.com [1] to review payment arrangements.

The website also has a short video that discusses payment arrangements that can be made online anytime.

Since the LIHEAP program opened in November, it has helped more than 384,000 Pennsylvania households pay heating bills with cash grants and more than 88,000 households with crisis grants.

Cash grants are provided to help individuals and families pay for home heating utility bills or fuel costs, and crisis grants are available to address heating emergencies such as a furnace failure, fuel shortages or possible termination of utility service.

Cash grants are based on household income, family size, type of heating fuel and region.

LIHEAP applications are available at county assistance offices and community service agencies, such as Area Agencies on Aging or community action agencies. Applications can also be submitted online at www.compass.state.pa.us [2].

LIHEAP applications require the names, dates of birth and social security numbers of each person in the household, proof of income for all household members, and a recent utility or heating bill, depending on the type of heating system used.

Eligibility is based on $17,328 in annual income for a single person, $23,312 for a couple, and $35,280 for a family of four. Add $5,984 in income for each additional person in the household.