The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

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January 11, 2014

Calls for heat aid up 290% in Union County

HARRISBURG — HARRISBURG — A state Department of Public Welfare official is stumped as to why applications received and granted for the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program have skyrocketed in Union more so than any other Valley county this winter.

Requests in Union County are up 290 percent in the 2013-14 season compared with one year ago. Approvals increased 221 percent.

“I don’t have any explanation for the sudden increase in the county,” said Kait Gillis, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Welfare, which administers the program. “I just don’t.”

As more Valley residents are receiving grants from a program whose coffers have been slashed 59 percent this season as a result of sequestration and other budget cuts, many find their awards are lower.

The average grant in 2010-11 was $480. In 2012-13, it was $283. This year eligible households will average $200, Gillis said.

Pennsylvania’s share of LIHEAP funds were cut from $315 million last season to $131 million this season, Gillis said.

“The federal government allocates a certain amount of funding for LIHEAP every year,” Gillis said Friday. “This year, because there is less funding, the eligibility requirement has been raised and the minimum grant amount has been lowered to $100 from $300.”

Applications for assistance this season compared with last are down 0.7 percent in Northumberland County, 0.3 percent in Snyder County and 4.3 percent in Montour County. Approvals increased 16.5 percent in Northumberland County, 4 percent in Snyder County and 12 percent in Montour County over the one-year period.

However, only 49 percent of applicants were successful in Northumberland and Montour counties this year. Seventy-five percent of applicants received awards in both municipalities last season. Approvals rose from 22 percent to 26 percent in Snyder County and from 23 percent to 49 percent in Union County last year compared with this.

LIHEAP funds are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis until the money is exhausted, Gillis said.

Hardship is being felt across the Valley.

Respondents to a query on The Daily Item’s Facebook page revealed many residents having financial trouble and others who thought taking from the government was accepting an unwarranted “handout.”

Wrote Julie Spatzer Clark: “It’s a shame that there is such a stigma that comes with receiving any sort of ’help’. Yes, there are people who don’t work and do receive help. But, there are so many working families, myself included, who qualify for help. I have two children. I was married for 17 years, have had the same job for 21 years, have had a second job for the last three years, working six days a week. And still qualify for ’help’. Not everyone sits on their butts and collects. Sometimes this ’help’ truly goes to people who work. Stop with the stereotypes! Be thankful if you don’t need ’help’ and be thankful for whatever ’help’ you do get.”

Posted Rosi Inpa: “I work. I apply. Some times I get help and some times I earn too much... But whatever help they give, at least they give. I received LIHEAP last year. I didn’t apply this year due to personal reasons. I don’t see how anyone can complain about any help that is offered.”

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said President Barack Obama should request no less than $4.7 billion for the program in 2015 — or more than $1 billion above what is being spent.

The federal LIHEAP budget in 2013 was $3.255 billion; in 2014, it is $3.02 billion — and trending downward.

“(Last) week’s dangerously cold weather is a reminder of the need to adequately fund heating assistance in the coming year,” Casey said. “In the coming weeks, the administration has a chance to ensure that seniors and working families in Pennsylvania have the resources they need to stay warm during the next winter. Already this year seniors and working families in Pennsylvania have endured $95 million in cuts to heating assistance. I’m urging the administration and Congress to commit to adequately funding this program in the coming year.”

 

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