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McKeesport center administers LIHEAP heat funding program in area

| Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014, 4:16 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Betty Gaydos of Glassport prefers to keep her thermostat set in the mid-60s range. She said senior citizens are among those on fixed incomes who can benefit from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Betty Gaydos of Glassport does what she can to keep heating bills low during the winter.

Most of the windows in her house are of the double storm variety, she hangs insulated draperies in the coldest room and she pays her gas bill on a budget plan that spreads out the cost of heating over the entire year.

As for the thermostat?

“I keep mine at 66 all the time,” she said.

Gaydos signs up annually for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. She says the program helps to keep the monthly heating costs for her six-room home between $75 and $100.

“I feel good about what I receive from them,” Gaydos said. “It's for people that need help. It does help.”

LIHEAP benefits are calculated based on income, household size, the type of fuel used for heating and the region. Last year, the program served 384,334 residents statewide.

To qualify for LIHEAP benefits this winter, applicants must earn $17,235 or less for a single family household and $35,325 or less for a family of four.

For more information on income guidelines or to apply for LIHEAP benefits, call 866-857-7095 or 800-622-3527.

Though the program, which is federally funded and administered at state and local levels, has seen cutbacks in recent years — it received $5.1 billion in 2009 and $3 billion for 2014 — Kait Gillis of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare said there has never been a year when the program ran out of funds before all eligible applicants were served.

Two years ago, the average in-state assistance benefit was $408. That's only a fraction of heating costs for most households, but proponents of the program like Gaydos say every little bit helps.

Steel Valley Opportunities Industrialization Center in McKeesport administers the program locally. Executive director LuEthel Nesbit said the heating and crisis programs are available as they have been in previous years but noted her organization's home weatherization program has been severely curtailed because of federal cutbacks.

“I'm not taking any new weatherization applications,” she said. “We're trying to serve people on our waiting list.”

She said the inability to offer the weatherization service — which can include things like adding insulation, weather stripping and caulking to drafty homes — has been a setback in the battle against the cold.

Home weatherization offers long-term solutions, she said. It's an important part of addressing and lowering heating bills.

Still, Nesbit said her agency continues to administer assistance to households that qualify for the LIHEAP program.

That can include emergency aid to households that have faulty heating systems.

The application for the heating assistance program already is open. The crisis program application period opens Thursday.

Nesbit stressed that the crisis program is for emergency heating situations only. The program will repair or in some cases replace a faulty furnace or heating system, but only in instances in which one is already in place. The program will not install a heating system in a home where one does not already exist.

Nesbit said utility companies usually have customer assistance programs in place.

Dollar Energy Fund is another resource for people having a hard time keeping up with heating and utility bills. That organization can be reached at 800-683-7036.

A number of practical measures can be taken at home to reduce heating bills.

Lowering the thermostat several degrees at night or before going out for the day is one to reduce energy consumption. Closing the curtains around a window is another simple step that can reduce drafts. Heating vents should be kept clear and unblocked by rugs or furniture.

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or