As temperatures drop and heating bills rise, lower-income citizens across the Laurel Highlands often face a financial struggle when trying to keep warm during the harshest winter days.
But they can receive some much-needed assistance from the state.
Each January, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program begins to offer regular crisis grants for individuals and families in danger of losing their heating. This year, LIHEAP started the statewide program on Wednesday.
“This provides an immediate infusion (of money) to get that oil, get that gas, whatever they need to make sure their home, their children and their families are safe in winter conditions,” said state Department of Public Welfare spokeswoman Donna Morgan.
Regular crisis grants are available for households where a fuel source such as coal, kerosene or wood will be exhausted within 15 days or a 60-day termination notice has been received from a utility service company. Certain individuals with broken heating equipment or leaking lines can also receive assistance.
Applicants must meet certain financial requirements, based upon the size of a household. For instance, a one-person household must have an income of $16,755 or less to be eligible. On the higher end, the cutoff for a household with 10 or more members is $70,215.
“Some people can’t survive unless they have this particular help,” Morgan said.
Grants typically range from $25 to $400.
“Obviously, for some people, it’s a real help,” said state Rep. Gary Haluska, D-Patton. “They help out the unemployed and underemployed, and it’s a good thing for them.”
The Department of Public Welfare prefers to send the money directly to utility companies. However, in cases where repair work is needed, the department will occasionally direct funds to individuals, who then pay for the needed service.
The regular crisis grants work in conjunction with the state’s basic heating assistance program that started on Nov. 1. Both programs will remain open until March 29.
“The crisis grants are the second phase of the department’s LIHEAP program, which has been offering cash grants since Nov. 1,” said Welfare Secretary Gary Alexander. “We open the crisis program in January as the temperatures in Pennsylvania really begin to plummet and heating one’s home becomes a lifesaving measure.”
During the 2011-2012 heating season, almost 108,000 Pennsylvania households received crisis grants: 2,685 in Cambria County, 1,685 in Bedford County, 1,740 in Somerset County.
Anybody interested in getting information about obtaining a crisis grant can contact offices in Cambria (533-2253), Bedford (624-4072) and Somerset (443-3683).
The application process can be expedited by filling out an online form at www.compass.state.pa.us.