Dwindling aid to heat homes offered

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The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or Liheap, will begin accepting applications on Tuesday to help low-income households with heating bills this winter.

Liheap is administered by the Department of Public Welfare and distributes federal funding for two types of assistance: the cash component and the crisis component.

Eligibility for the cash component is determined by a household's size and income level. Liheap helps low-income households that meet eligibility limits of 150 percent of federal poverty guidelines. That means a one-person household making less than $16,335 per year could receive benefits; a family of four earning less than $33,525 would qualify as well.

The minimum cash benefit this year is $100, down from last year's $300 because of expected cuts in federal Liheap funding. President Barack Obama's proposal for Liheap funding cuts about $134 million from Pennsylvania's allocation.

The crisis grant is designed for households that find themselves threatened with no heat because of a financial emergency. The money can be used to buy heating fuel or to fix broken equipment. The maximum crisis grant this year is $300.

The Liheap program was scrutinized in August after the Office of Auditor General said the Department of Public Welfare hadn't improved on oversight and enforcement issues found in a 2007 audit.

Last season, more than 30,000 residents in Allegheny County received cash awards, and around 1,000 received crisis grants.

Applications for Liheap grants can be found at www.compass.state.pa.us, or downloaded from the Department of Public Welfare website at www.dpw.state.pa.us and then returned to the county assistance office. Residents may also apply in person at county assistance offices.

The Allegheny County phone numbers for Liheap applications are 412-562-0330 for cash grants and 1-800-851-3838 for crisis grants.

For more information from the area's gas companies: Peoples Natural Gas customers may call 1-800-400-9276; Equitable Gas customers may call 1-800-644-8090; and Columbia Gas customers may call 1-800-272-2714.

Erich Schwartzel: eschwartzel@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1455.


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