As temperatures have dropped to record lows this winter, the need for home heating assistance has spiked.
More York County residents are applying -- and getting approved -- for government help to pay their heating bills, a state official said Wednesday.
From Nov. 4 through Tuesday, the state Department of Public Welfare utilized the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to approve cash grants for 5,751 county residents, according to spokeswoman Kait Gillis. That's up 4 percent from the 5,513 cash grants received in York County last year during the same period.
A greater spike was observed with the 640 county residents who applied for crisis grants, which became available Jan. 2 and help energy customers who have broken heating equipment, received shut-off notices or do not have heat service. That number climbed 15 percent from the 555 county residents who received crisis grants during the same week last year.
"Part of the increase is due to the weather, with it being so much colder, but we've also really tried to get the information out there this year," Gillis said.
An increase has also been observed across the state. From Nov. 4 through Tuesday, the state has approved LIHEAP cash grants for 249,228 Pennsylvanians -- a 25 percent increase from the 198,833 state residents who received the help last year.
The number of crisis grants approved has increased 6 percent, from 29,529 last year to 31,389 this year.
Gillis said the help is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis and applications are being accepted until April 4.
To qualify for the help, household income must be less than 130 percent of the federal poverty line. For example, a family of four can't have a household income that exceeds $35,325.
For more income guidelines, or to apply, visit www.compass.state.pa.us or go downtown to the York County Assistance Office at 130 N. Duke St.
The help could dry up early or be extended, depending on the availability of federal funds, Gillis said.
For the 2013-14 year, Pennsylvania received $190.8 million in federal aid for LIHEAP, down from $209.5 million in the prior year.
Sequester cuts are to blame for a $95 million decrease in the program, leaving each state with a less this year.
The arctic chill this week prompted U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and other federal lawmakers to urge President Barack Obama to restore or increase LIHEAP funding in his budget proposal.
"This week's dangerously cold weather is a reminder of the need to adequately fund heating assistance in the coming year," Casey said.
While the funding is dwindling, energy costs are increasing, according to the U.S. Energy Department.
In its outlook for heating costs, the department said natural gas costs would increase 13 percent, propane would increase 11 percent, electric bills would increase 2 percent, and heating oil bills were predicted to be $46 less if temperatures were slightly colder than last year.
Few people would describe record lows this week as slightly colder, and Shipley Energy has seen a significant increase in calls, said spokesman Bob Astor.
The York-based company sells oil, propane, natural gas and other products.
"There's been a significant uptick. We've had a couple mild winters, and this one has been difficult for homeowners," Astor said.
As the colder days have required more energy to make heat, customers have sought assistance.
Astor couldn't comment on how many customers receive government help, but he said Shipley offers various budgets and payment plans.
"We're always willing to work with our customers to provide home heat and comfort," he said.
--Reach Candy Woodall at firstname.lastname@example.org.