Families looking for home-heating assistance this winter from the state Department of Public Welfare may be surprised to learn that the income requirements have become stricter and that there is now a cap in place as to how much money they can receive.


Families looking for home-heating assistance this winter from the state Department of Public Welfare may be surprised to learn that the income requirements have become stricter and that there is now a cap in place as to how much money they can receive.
Citing less federal funding for the low-income home energy assistance program, also known as LIHEAP, the public welfare department raised the income bar for families that are seeking grants to help pay their electric, gas, or oil bill.
A family of four must have an income no greater than $33,075 - which is about $11,000 less than last year’s maximum - to receive the assistance.
Approximately 547,000 families were helped through cash grants last winter, according to public welfare department figures.
That number will surely fall with across the board income eligibility hikes.
Department officials were unavailable for comment on Friday.
A press spokesperson has cited that an anticipated reduction in federal funding - based on the Obama Administration’s proposed 2010 federal budget - cuts $2 billion from the national LIHEAP appropriation.
This would leave Pennsylvania, and its 67 counties, with $188 million less for the program - dropping from $330 million in available grant dollars last winter to $142 million this winter.
“We will adjust eligibility requirements based on a finalized federal budget. We have to base our program on what we know is available," Stacey Witalec, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Welfare, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in a recent interview.
Although the president’s proposed budget has not been passed, others say that the money is indeed there and that LIHEAP should not be short changed, especially in an economy recovering from the worst recession since the Great Depression.
“The House upped the budget this year and so did the Senate,” said Gary Ritterstein, a spokesperson for Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak who has been urging the state Department of Public Welfare to not change the income requirements for LIHEAP this winter. Sestak is also challenging Arlen Specter for the incumbent’s Senate seat in next year’s primary election.
According to the congressman in a letter he wrote to public welfare department secretary Estelle B. Richman, “both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate ... have passed bills funding the federal LIHEAP block grant at $5.1 billion” which is equal to last year’s appropriation.
“That’s the figure they should rely on,” said Ritterstein, otherwise it just creates a “LIHEAP fiasco.”
The state public welfare department has also imposed a maximum grant cap of $1,000, which was not the case in previous years.
The grant program is open from November 2, 2009 to March 15, 2010.
Further information for Wayne County residents including how to apply for LIHEAP assistance can be attained by calling the county assistance office at 253-7118.

Household sizes and income limits for LIHEAP’s 2009-10 season:

1 -- $16,245
2 -- $21,855
3 -- $27,465
4 -- $33,075
5 -- $38,685
6 -- $44,295
7 -- $49,905
8 -- $55,515