Dipping winter temperatures and rising energy costs have left many in the cold this year.
Catholic Charities agencies and the pastors of local parishes are hearing from hundreds of families all across the Commonwealth about the hardships they are experiencing. Agencies are expecting up to a 200% increase in requests this year for home-heating assistance and they say that households in some areas could see their energy bills increase an average of $2,000 more this season. Families who in the past did not need assistance are finding themselves in need of help.
The members of the state legislature and the governor hope that many of these families can stay warm this winter with a $21.3 million appropriation of state dollars to the Low Income Heating Emergency Assistance Program (LIHEAP). This is the first time state dollars will supplement the $120 million of federal money to the help low-income Pennsylvanians pay home heating bills. Senator Jake Corman (R – Centre County) and Representative Camille “Bud” George (D – Clearfield County) led the bipartisan effort.
LIHEAP is a federally-funded program which enables states to help low-income households meet their home heating needs. In Pennsylvania, the program is administered by the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) and consists of three components: cash benefits to help eligible low-income households pay for their home-heating fuel; crisis payments, if needed, to resolve weather-related, supply shortage, and other household energy-related emergencies; and energy conservation and weatherization measures to address long-range solutions to the home-heating problems of low-income households.
According to DPW, LIHEAP is not a public assistance program in the traditional sense. LIHEAP is a grant that does not have to be repaid. Eligible households will not have liens placed on their property, nor will other assets affect their eligibility for LIHEAP benefits. In addition, eligibility for public assistance benefits is not affected by receipt of LIHEAP benefits.
“As energy costs rise, getting behind in utility bills is a very real threat to many,” says Francis Viglietta, Director of Social Concerns for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference. “While this increase in assistance is a positive first step, added measures are needed to ensure that others who have already been disconnected can find a reasonable and affordable way of restoring service.”
For information on obtaining heating assistance, contact your local Catholic Charities agency. For more information about keeping heating costs down in your home, log on to www.staywarmpa.com.
PCC Column January 2006 by Amy Beisel, Communications Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania.