The George Report

Heating assistance gets a needed shot in the arm

By state Rep. Camille "Bud" George, D-74 of Clearfield County

 

A bright spot has emerged among the dismal economic news.

 

 Pennsylvania’s heating assistance program – the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) – has more muscle, thanks to the federal government almost doubling its block grant to the Commonwealth.

 

Bolstering LIHEAP answered many a prayer:

● Income limits are relaxed so that an individual making up to $23,110 – and a family of four making up to $44,443 – could qualify. Last year’s income guidelines were $15,315 for an individual and $30,975 for a family of four.

● The minimum cash grant – to help families pay heating bills – is tripled to $300.

● The maximum crisis grant – for heating emergences like utility shutoffs, fuel shortages and equipment failures – is now $800.

 

County assistance offices now are accepting applications. The numbers for Clearfield County are 765-0684 and toll free at (1) 800 862-8941. In Centre County, the toll-free numbers are (1) 800 355-6024 for cash grants and (1) 800 822-2610 for crisis grants.

 

Applications also can be filed online at www.compass.state.pa.us. The toll-free LIHEAP hotline is (1) 866 857-7095.

 

The expanded LIHEAP is a godsend. Although average heating oil prices dipped last week across the nation by almost 17-cents a gallon from the previous week, they remained more than 10-cents a gallon higher than the sky-high prices of a year ago.

 

The federal Energy Information Administration projected heating costs for all fuels this winter would average 15.3 percent higher than last winter -- 23 percent higher for heating oil, 18 percent for natural gas, 11 percent for propane and 10 percent for electricity -- under normal conditions.

 

An old military joke says weather forecasts "are like horoscopes with numbers." But we look for hope where we can find it, and one forecast calls a slightly better chance for a warmer-than-normal December through February in Pennsylvania than a colder one.

We can’t do much other than to complain about the weather. However, a Web site – www.TurnSealSave.org --  and a toll-free hotline – (1) 866-550-4355 –offer tips and resources to control energy use and reduce heating costs.

Pennsylvanians are struggling with their energy bills.  A state Public Utility Commission survey in February indicated almost 11,500 residences across the state were not using a central-heating system or using potentially unsafe heating sources.

 According to utility reports, electric utilities terminated 147,523 customers from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30 this year – a 20 percent increase from last year. Natural gas terminations jumped by 12 percent, affecting 85,747 customers. Service was restored for 103,578 electric and 47,008 natural gas customers.

Consumers without utility service or facing a shut-off should first call their utility. Should that prove fruitless, the PUC may be able to help. The toll-free number is (1) 800 692-7380.

Heating oil is not regulated by the PUC. However, the state Department of Public Welfare is offering a Fuel Oil Discount Pilot Program in Clearfield and Blair counties. The idea is to increase the purchasing power of LIHEAP recipients using heating oil or kerosene by obtaining a discount from fuel vendors.

In Clearfield County, 18 vendors have signed up for the program, which enables them to choose among different pricing options.

Almost 12,800 LIHEAP cash and crisis grants – totaling more than $4.9 million -- were approved last winter for residents in Clearfield and Centre Counties.

Thankfully, LIHEAP will have added resources this winter to meet the demand for its life-saving services.

                                                                  --30--