Pennsylvania 2018 LIHEAP Check In


Sometimes It Snows in April:

Pennsylvania’s LIHEAP Office Checks In


It’s April and snow is still falling in Pennsylvania. Given the prolonged heating season, essential advocacy groups like the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project (PULP) employed the latest technology to maximize outreach opportunities, specifically an educational webinar-webcast to reach people in the convenience of their own homes, an especially important convenience for elderly and disabled program beneficiaries not able to travel to physical CAA locations.  Designed to get the community involved ahead of the opening of enrollment seasons, PULP held a similar webinar last year to “review the proposed 2018 Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) state plan and solicit interested individuals to file comments on various aspects of the plan.”


With over 345,000 Pennsylvanians helped each year, according to the Reading Eagle, PA DHS Secretary Ted Dallas amplified in the same cover story the sheer numbers of families who depend on LIHEAP to survive the state’s brutal winters, spotlighted the fact that “this program provides hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians a warm place to live during winter months throughout the state.  That number includes thousands of the commonwealth's most vulnerable citizens including elderly, children, and individuals living with a disability. For these families, LIHEAP is a lifeline that enables them to not have to choose between putting food on the table and heating their homes”


The Department’s Press Secretary, Colin Day, sat down to give a fuller picture of how this winter’s LIHEAP season has played out for families, beginning perhaps most notably with the news that “for the 2017-2018 season, we have received 87,020 applications, which is an increase of 43 percent from this point last year.  Pennsylvania has received 416,669 applications for LIHEAP Cash benefits for the 2017-2018 season which began November 1, 2017. This is a slight decrease from the number of applications received at this point last year.”  Working hard to ensure the most families possible are helped of those who apply, the Secretary adds that “we serve approximately 23 percent of the 1.5 million eligible households in Pennsylvania. About 73 percent of LIHEAP cash applications are approved and 82 percent of LIHEAP Crisis applications are approved.”


Hit hard all year so far, Dollar Energy PA correctly predicted this past winter that “consumers will likely pay record prices to heat their homes this season. The average U.S. household will pay $992 in heating costs this winter, up 10.5% (or $94) from last year. For heating oil customers, the increase will be particularly dramatic with an expected 28% jump from a year ago and double the cost seen four winters ago, bringing the total bill to $1,834. Natural gas customers are expected to see a 5% increase and electric customers are likely to see a 7% increase in their winter heating bill.”


Equally vital to whatever community it serves, Secretary Day confirms that from the inner cities of the state’s major urban centers like Philadelphia, Erie, Scranton and Pittsburgh through PA’s picturesque country sides, “rural communities are often dependent on deliverable fuels for their heating needs. These fuels are regularly more costly and require a large up-front cost to purchase as well as the added burden of minimum delivery amounts. The cost of fuel can vary greatly throughout the season and these customers are generally unable to obtain fuel if they have a balance owed to the vendor. LIHEAP is beneficial to the rural communities in the state not only by assisting with the general energy burden of households, as it does in all parts of the state, but also by allowing households to afford minimum delivery and avoid large upfront costs prior to obtaining fuel. Households with income under 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines that are served by regulated utilities have the added security of a moratorium to prevent shut-offs during the peak heating months; most rural communities do not benefit from the moratorium due to the dependency on deliverable fuels. These households are without heat if they cannot afford fuel within the heating season.”


Speaking more broadly on the day-in-and-out difference he sees across every demographic of household who apply for assistance, the Secretary highlights LIHEAP as “a life-saving program especially for those most vulnerable to the effects of the cold temperatures such as seniors, children and those with a disability. It helps to provide heating assistance for households which allows recipients to continue to use the money within their budget to provide for other needs rather than put additional funds towards safely heating their homes. LIHEAP also provides crisis grants that help homes that could potentially go without heat maintain heat throughout the season.”


With a synchronized outreach effort between the state, Community Action Agencies, charities and Utilities to keep Pennsylvania informed throughout the uncertainties of Washington budget battles and a limit on available assistance, major energy providers like PECO, who noted on its web page informing customers about the program that “last year LIHEAP helped over 40,000 PECO customers totaling more than $15 million in assistance.”  People’s Gas, serving the Pittsburgh area, reached out to their considerable customer base late this past fall, reminding both those families in need and those who might know someone in need unaware of the LIHEAP program that “everyone knows a friend, neighbor or family member who may struggle to pay their heating bills, and a little help goes a long way,” said Rita Black, Director of Customer Relations at Peoples. “Our goal is to connect families to the programs that are available to help them and make it easy for them to apply. We hope that anyone who needs help this winter or those caring for family members or neighbors with limited incomes will learn more about  LIHEAP, CAP and other programs that provide assistance.”


Key local allies like the Polish American Center in Philadelphia pitched in as well, helping families connect not only with LIHEAP, but additional heating assistance programs as well, with the PAC offering resources on their website like “UESF, the Utility Emergency Services Fund and it is designed to help with up to $500 in assistance for utility bills that are shut off or ready to be shut-off. This grant along with other assistance must reach a zero balance on the bill giving the customer a fresh start.  PGW’s CRP Program is the customer responsibility program and it helps low income customers keep their service on by paying a budget based on their income as well as possible discounts.”


            Appreciative of every effort to spread the word about LIHEAP and its ongoing and vital importance in the lives of tens of thousands of Pennsylvania families, Secretary Day agreed that “any event that provides community outreach and promotion of the program is valuable.  Since LIHEAP is a seasonal program in many areas of the country, it does not have the same visibility to the community and lawmakers as some of the other public assistance programs. LIHEAP Action Day provides an opportunity for congressional representatives and senators to be educated on the importance of the program to their constituents and how cuts in funding can be detrimental to communities.” Driving home just how deep and broad a swatch of damage further cuts to the LIHEAP program could inflict on the communities it serves across the state, the Secretary in closing cautions that the impact of “any funding cuts to the program would reduce the ability of the program to serve residents within the state, including veterans and rural communities. Since Pennsylvania does not receive any funding outside of the Federal funds, Pennsylvania would be forced to discontinue the LIHEAP program unless a new source of funds could be established.”