Governor Ed Rendell says he’s extending Pennsylvania’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program by two weeks, and increasing individual grants by a hundred dollars.
Rendell says he’s able to extend LIHEAP’s application season into April and up cash grants because of decreased fuel costs.
The expansion is also possible because the Department of Public Welfare delayed the start of its crisis grant program until early January.
That decision drew criticism over the past few months, but Deputy Public Welfare Secretary Linda Blanchette says needy families got the help they required through LIHEAP’s cash grant program, which began in November.
"Both at once sometimes means duplication when it’s not necessary. We were giving out both a cash and crisis grant when they both were not necessary. Separating them allowed us to give only what was needed, and then conserve the funds for other people’s needs."
Blanchette says Pennsylvania didn’t lower its eligibility requirements this year – it simply brought them back to regular levels after last year’s exception.
"Historically the LIHEAP program has had a 150 percent poverty level income guideline. Last year, because we had additional money, and because we were watching energy prices creep ever-higher – we were fearful that they would hit five dollars or more during the LIHEAP season – we did increase the income guidelines for last year only."
Federal LIHEAP funding for Pennsylvania was reduced by 56 million dollars this year.
Families of four with an income of 33-thousand dollars or less are eligible to apply for assistance.