As temperatures and employment figures continue to fall in Pennsylvania, more families may be looking to the LIHEAP program for assistance in paying heating bills. Yet according to the Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW) and Peco, far fewer of their customers have received the grants this year than in past years.
An article in today's Philadelphia Inquirer notes that 11,523 PGW customers have received LIHEAP grants this year, only 1/3rd the amount of customers with grants in 2008. Peco reports "that 4,000 of its customers had received grants by Dec. 1, down from 19,000 a year ago."
Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission reported that 18.5 percent more households (for a total of 17,037 households) would begin the winter with their heating utilities cut off. Even more may find themselves losing their utilities during the heating season or after April 1, when regulated utility companies can shut heating off (they cannot do so during the winter). Those who may lose heating during the winter would include families relying on propane or oil deliveries (many of whom live in rural areas) who have no protection from winter shutoffs.
One reason less households are receiving LIHEAP this year is because the eligibility level for the program decreased from the previous season. In 2008, families earning below 210 percent of the Federal Poverty Level- or about $44,520 for a family of four- could access the program. This year, only families earning below 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Level ($33,075 for a family of four) can access it.
While not discussed in the article, it is also possible that less families are receiving LIHEAP this year because they are unaware of the program. With so many households newly unemployed, there may be many eligible families who have never before used LIHEAP.
To see if you qualify, visit the Department of Public Welfare's LIHEAP site. Their recommendation for the fastest way to apply is through the COMPASS website. For more information, you can contact your local county assistance office or the LIHEAP hotline at 1-866-857-7095, Mondays through Fridays. Individuals with hearing impairments may call the TDD number at 1-800-451-5886. Individuals living in Philadelphia interested in being prescreened for LIHEAP and other programs may call PathWays PA at 215-387-1470, and those in Delaware County can call PathWays PA at 610-543-5022.
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