Never mind global warming, with the high cost of fuel this winter, many people are in need of help with heating bills. A boost in heating crisis funds available through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) was announced Wednesday.


Never mind global warming, with the high cost of fuel this winter, many people are in need of help with heating bills. A boost in heating crisis funds available through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) was announced Wednesday.


In fact, the announcement of the increase arrived at the Wayne County Assistance Office just after an interview was concluded with Greg Celeskey, Assistance Office Director, concerning what help is available to keep people warm this winter. Mr. Celeskey then updated his comments with news fresh from the Governor’s office, that the maximum heating crisis benefit has risen from $300 to $500.


He had just finished saying they were waiting word to see what change might be made from increased funding statewide.


LIHEAP is a grant that helps low-income families pay their heating bills; they do not have to repay it. There are two types of assistance; both are offered once for any one applicant in the season. Cash grants help families pay heating bills by having the grant sent directly to their utility company or fuel provider. The grant may range from $100 to $1,000 depending on various factors, and is credited to the person’s bill.


Crisis grants help families in an emergency due to being out of fuel.


Wednesday’s crisis grant increase was made possible through Pennsylvania’s newly received share of more than $44 million of the $450 million in new federal LIHEAP emergency contingency funding offered to states. LIHEAP recipients who have already received $300 in crisis benefits may now apply for an additional $200 to respond to another home heating crisis.


There are set income limits. Homeowners and renters who are in low or fixed incomes and whose yearly income before taxes is at or less than $15,315 for a person living alone, are eligible. The maximum income for two people is $20,535. For a family of four: $30,975.


Celeskey noted that so far in the current LIHEAP hearing season, which began November 5th, in Wayne County there have been 1,581 households receiving cash assistance totaling $395,558. The average grant was $250. Under the crisis grant program this season, 649 households received $194,334.


For the last season, running from October 2006 trough May 2007, Wayne County assisted 1,862 households with cash assistance totaling $480,595 (averaging $258). Crisis grants went to 854 households, and amounted to $279,242. Oil was the most frequent fuel employed for heat (40 percent of the applicants), followed by electric (23%), propane (15%), natural gas (13%), kerosene (8%), coal (1%) and wood or other (1%).


About one-third of the applicants are over age 60.


As weather turns colder, they get more calls, he said, and although this winter has been relatively mild, high fuel prices bring more applicants.  Celeskey said that in the past five years they have seen a gradual increase in applications, from about 1,500 to this season which he anticipates could reach between 1,900 and 2,000.


A surge in applicants is typically seen in the spring, since utility companies usually do not cut off service in the winter.


The Wayne County Assistance Office was able to help three households with payments to help make up for heating fuel purchased from A&B Fuel in Gouldsboro before the company filed bankruptcy and never made deliveries. The Pa. Attorney General’s Office, in their investigation, has kept a separate listing of LIHEAP recipients hurt by the lack of fuel delivery from A&B.


Celeskey urged people in need to apply; adding they need not feel embarrassed.
A separate part of the LIHEAP program deals with helping the income-eligible with emergency heating system repairs and weatherization. This facet is taken care of through the Wayne County Redevelopment Authority, a separate office (phone, 253-4882).


Applications for fuel bill cash assistance or crisis grants and may be made in person at their county Assistance Office (in Wayne County, the office is in the CVS Pharmacy building on 8th Street, Honesdale), by phone (call 253-7118 or toll-free, 877-879-5267) or on-line at www.compass.state.pa.us (for cash grants only).