Program gives warm hug for needy
The numbers of applicants for cash grants for heating to low-income households has increased since 2007-08. The number of applicants for crisis grants has decreased, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare.
Pennsylvania expects to receive $163.93 million in federal dollars to help keep poor families warm this winter.
The amount, minus $22.73 million for administration, leaves $141.20 million to be distributed in cash and crisis grants through the state's Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP.
That's almost 28 percent more than last winter.
The money is important: the U.S. Energy Information Agency expects natural gas costs to go up by 13 percent, and propane by 9 percent. It also projects that households will spend about 2 percent more for electricity this winter.
The state Department of Public Welfare, which administers LIHEAP, will open the program to applicants on Nov. 4, spokeswoman Carey Miller said.
Increasing numbers of people have applied for the grants to help pay for home heating fuel.
Last year, 547,100 people applied. That's up about 15 percent from 2007-08.
The federal funding stream has kept pace, according to DPW.
In 2007-08, the state distributed $88.5 million in cash grants. Last winter, that figure had risen to $110.5 million, about a 24.8 percent hike.
In Carbon County, the amounts went from $607,234 to $635,528. In Monroe County, the figures rose from $1.02 million to $1.09 million, and in Schuylkill County, from $1.58 million to $1.79 million.
While the LIHEAP grants and recipients have increased, the program's crisis component, cash grants for people who face immediate loss of heat due to equipment breakdowns or other emergencies, saw a 28 percent drop in applications.
Miller said it's impossible to pinpoint the reason for the reduced numbers.
In 2007-08, a total of 184,524 people applied for, and received, crisis grants. By last year, the number had dropped to 132,067.
In dollars, the crisis grants dipped from $64.6 million in 2007-08 to $42.5 million last year.
In Carbon, crisis grant figures went from $612,006 to $454,113. In Monroe, they plummeted from $735,777 to $499,064, and in Schuylkill, from $1.9 million to $1.4 million.
In fact, the state had crisis grant money left over from last winter, enough so that in August, DPW gave an additional $200 to households that received crisis grants in 2012-2013. The money, Secretary of Public Welfare Beverly D. Mackereth said, would "especially assist older adults and people with disabilities in paying their remaining utility bills, or give them additional financial support for the coming winter."
How to apply
Here's how to apply for grants throught the state's Low Income Home Heating Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, which opens Nov. 4:
*Apply online at www.compass.state.pa.us.
*Request an application by calling the statewide LIHEAP hotline at 1-866-857-7095 (TDD for the hearing impaired: 1-800-451-5886)
*Apply at a local county assistance office.
In Carbon County, the office is at 101 Lehigh Drive, Lehighton. The phone number is 610-577-9073.In Monroe County, the office is at 1972 West Main St., Suite 101, Stroudsburg. The phone number is 570-424-3517.
In Schuylkill County, the office is at 2640 Woodglen Road, Pottsville. The phone number is 570-621-3072.
The state's Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, LIHEAP, provides cash grants to help pay for home heating fuel. Here are the household maximum income eligibility guidelines:
One person: $17, 235
Two people: $23,265
Three people: $29,295
four people: $35,325
Five people: $41,355
Six people: $47,385
Seven people: $53,415
Eight people: $59,445
Nine people: $65,475
10 people: $71,505
Each additional person: Add $6,030