Calls for help through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) have been down so far this heating season compared to recent years. That's likely due to the slow start to winter. The milder temperatures have helped ease concerns that the program would run out of money before the end of the heating season, due to federal funding cuts.
"In anticipation, we did make some changes to the program to stretch the dollar as far as we can," said Anne Bale, a spokeswoman with the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, which administers the program. "The good news is that despite the fact that we did receive some funding cuts, we actually got more money than we planned for, so that is really good news and will help us keep LIHEAP up and running mostly likely through March."
Changes include new income levels and smaller benefit payments. But the mild weather has kept calls for LIHEAP assistance down statewide.
"We feel that we've received enough funding from the federal government to keep us going through March, which is the typical time that we close LIHEAP. So far, so good. The mild winter has certainly helped us stretch our dollar. If we get a cold snap, we'll be ready," said Bale.
LIHEAP is a grant that offers assistance in the form of a cash grant, sent directly to the utility company, or a crisis grant for households in immediate danger of being without heat. Emergency situations include broken heating equipment or leaking lines that must be fixed or replaced, lack of fuel, termination of utility service, or danger of being without fuel (less than a 15 day supply).
While cash grant requests have fallen, crisis grant requests have gone up slightly, though Bale said that's not unusual for this time of year. So far in Allegheny County, 12,850 have been approved to receive the cash benefit and 489 have been approved to receive the crisis benefit.