Weather, program changes help stretch Pa. heating assistance

    The weather’s been mild for the most part this winter, and that’s been a relief to the folks who dole out dollars to help struggling Pennsylvanians pay their heating bills.

    Even in a pinch, however, upcoming cold snaps won’t zero out the grant program’s available funds.

    January is usually peak season for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP.

    A dip in temperatures sends the applications pouring in–and when the money runs out, that’s it.

    LIHEAP is on target so far, thanks to tweaks in the program, said Anne Bale, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Welfare. Fewer people qualify this year and the eligibility standards are tighter.

    “We have reduced our income levels. They were a little higher last year, but this year we’ve reduced the levels and we hope that will sustain our funding throughout the heating season,” Bale said.

    Bale said DPW expects the program to have enough funds to award grants until March, which is the typical shutdown date.

    After federal funding was cut for this year’s LIHEAP benefits, Pennsylvania will get about $200 million for LIHEAP–down from more than $325 million last year.

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