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Reminder: Act soon for aid in paying heating bills

| Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2005

Officials urge anyone seeking help through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to apply early for a grant.

LIHEAP applications are now available at county assistance offices.

The state will begin distributing the first-come, first-served grants on Nov. 7. The application period ends March 23, 2006.

State Department of Public Welfare officials said that those who apply late in the winter season risk not being able to get a grant because the $120 million federal allotment for the program might be exhausted.

Stacey Ward, welfare department spokeswoman, said Gov. Ed Rendell has requested more federal funding for the program.

Ward said officials expect there to be a greater demand for the grants because of the rising cost of home heating fuel and the potential for a colder-than-normal winter.

T.W. Phillips announced this week that it will raise the rate of its average monthly residential gas bill about 25 percent. That means T.W. Phillips customers will pay about $26 more per month.

T.W. Phillips stated in a written release that it will not make a profit from the higher rates because of Public Utility Commission regulations.

Dominion Peoples Gas, Equitable Gas and Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania also have announced rate increases.

Columbia raised its rates by 46.9 percent, which increases the average monthly gas bill about $47.

Dominion and Equitable raised rates by 22 percent. The average monthly Dominion bill will increase about $26. The average monthly Equitable bill will increase about $28.

Meantime, LIHEAP is meant to support people who can't meet their home heating costs. Help is available through direct payments to energy companies. The payment, in most cases, will appear as credit on the customer's bill.

Help also is available in crisis situations, such as when a furnace breaks, pipes are leaking or utility service has been terminated.

Again, in most cases, the LIHEAP payment will go directly to the utility company, furnace repair company, etc.

The program is open to homeowners and renters who meet income guidelines.

To be eligible, the household income can't exceed 135 percent of the federal Poverty Income Guidelines: $12,920 for a one-person household; $17,321 for two people; $21,722 for three people; $26,123 for four people; $30,524 for five people and $34,925 for six people.

For larger households, the guidelines increase by $4,401 for each additional person.

An eligibility notice will be mailed to each applicant 30 days after they apply. It will detail what amount the applicant can expect to receive, if any.

LIHEAP applications can also be downloaded from the Internet at www.compass.state.pa.us.

Contributing: The Leader Times in Kittanning and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Additional Information:

County assistance

Last year, Allegheny County residents received about $7.8 million in LIHEAP cash grants and more than $2 million in crisis grants.

Armstrong County residents received about $756,000 in cash grants and about $212,000 in crisis grants, while Butler County residents received about $992,000 in cash grants and more than $438,000 in crisis grants.

Westmoreland County figures weren't available.

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