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Valley News Dispatch

LIHEAP, Dollar Energy Fund helping low-income residents with winter heating bills

Chuck Biedka
| Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017, 11:05 p.m.

Low-income residents who need help paying for wintertime energy bills and others who encounter major energy-related emergencies are still covered by federal and local programs, but the money usually goes fast.

Once again this winter, utility companies said they will help customers deal with high heating bills by putting them on budget plans or telling them about other programs.

The federally funded Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program — LIHEAP — is the largest grant source.

This year, the LIHEAP application period started Nov. 1 and will continue through April 6, which is a week longer than last spring.

LIHEAP remains significant

LIHEAP is managed in Pennsylvania by the state Department of Human Services.

Deputy Secretary Lisa Watson said about $178 million has been allocated thus far from the federal government. The state hopes an additional allocation will be made so the department can cover the whole winter.

How far that money goes is based on how many people apply and “on how bad a winter we have,” she said.

By Wednesday, more than 22,000 Alle-Kiski Valley households had already applied and received about $4.7 million in LIHEAP grants, according to Human Services.

Most of the grants were doled out to households in Allegheny County ($2.7 million) and Westmoreland County ($1.4 million).

People can apply through the DHS's COMPASS program or access the department's home page, check for income eligibility and learn how to file an application, Watson said.

Dollar Energy Fund

The Pittsburgh-based Dollar Energy Fund is second most used.

Dollar Energy is a direct way for customers to help people in need by checking off the $1 donation box when they pay their energy bills.

The participating utility companies match the public's donations.

West Penn Power, Duquesne Light, Columbia Gas and Peoples Gas are among participating utilities for the Dollar Energy Fund. That's something most utilities have done for 30 years.

The hardship fund can give grants up to $500 for emergencies, said Duquesne Light's Mike Selep.

West Penn Power, with about 720,000 customers in 24 counties, including most of the Alle-Kiski Valley, and Duquesne Light, with 600,000 users in parts of Allegheny and Beaver counties, are among utilities asking customers to donate.

On Nov. 17, the company used social media to raise $10,000 for the fund through the utility's “Power It Forward” campaign, said Duquesne Light spokeswoman Ashlee Yingling.

Another opportunity will be in January when Dollar Energy holds its annual fundraiser in Market Square in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Crisis grants are included to repair or replace furnaces and hot water tanks.

Columbia Gas spokesman Lee Gierczynski said the company annually helps customers learn how to reduce heating bills and reminds them about available grants, including the Dollar Energy Fund.

Most utility spokesmen and state offices were not available because of Thanksgiving.

Income guidelines

There are income eligibility requirements for applicants.

For instance, a family of four may earn up to about $44,100 annually to be eligible for the program.

The money can be very important to many families, said West Penn Power spokesman Todd Myers.

“As the economy continues to struggle, more and more families need a hand paying their utility bills,” he said. “The cold winter months ahead can exacerbate this need as our customers use more energy to keep warm.”

Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4711, cbiedka@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ChuckBiedka.

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