Preparing for a Cold Winter

As we prepare for another cold winter, many Pennsylvanians are worried about how they will afford to heat their homes. One program which is available to help low-income families pay their energy bills and reduce their home energy costs is the Low Income Housing Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Congress established LIHEAP in 1981 and funds the program each year. State governments administer the program, including deciding the mix and dollar range of benefits, choosing how benefits are provided, and deciding what agencies will administer the program.

For years, LIHEAP has been a highly effective and efficient federal program that delivers help to those who need it most. Since joining the Senate, I have taken advantage of opportunities to increase home energy assistance. As rising energy prices, a slowing economy and increasing food costs place a heavy burden on our must vulnerable citizens, the federal government has a responsibility to help people afford the most basic needs. In Fiscal Years 2009 and 2010, Congress funded LIHEAP at $5.1 billion, a record funding level. Despite this, over 80% of eligible households do not receive assistance.

In Pennsylvania, the Department of Public Welfare administers LIHEAP. The program provides help through cash grants, which are sent directly to a utility company or fuel provider, and through crisis grants, which help households that have an emergency and are in immediate danger of being without heat. For example, a family of four with an annual income of up to $35,280 can qualify for assistance. Pennsylvania allows for up to 15 percent of its Federal LIHEAP block grant allocation to be allocated to the Weatherization Assistance Program, which helps to make homes more energy efficient, thereby reducing utility bills.

LIHEAP applications are available from November 1, 2010 until March 31, 2011. More information is available at local county assistance offices throughout the state and online at http://www.dpw.state.pa.us/servicesprograms/liheap/. Pennsylvanians may also apply through the COMPASS website ( http://www.compass.state.pa.us). LIHEAP eligibility is limited to households with incomes up to 150% of the federal poverty income guidelines. Priority for aid is given to households with the greatest energy needs or cost burdens, especially those that include disabled individuals, frail older individuals, or young children. Home owners and renters are treated the same.