Low-income York County residents are among those who could benefit from an increase in federal money used to help people pay their winter heating bills.
After January brought bitter, record-low temperatures, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released an additional $454 million in funds for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. That means Pennsylvania has an extra $27.5 million to dole out to residents.
The extra money bumps Pennsylvania back up past its pre-sequester level of funding, to about $217 million.
Each state will decide how much more money to allocate to each county, said Alex Miller, deputy press secretary for Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. Casey was among the legislators pushing for more funds as Arctic air brought below-zero temperatures across the U.S. and sequester cuts and rising energy prices squeezed the available funds.
More York County residents have applied for and received LIHEAP funding this year compared to last, according to Department of Welfare spokeswoman Kait Gillis.
There are two types of funding available: cash assistance to pay heating bills and "crisis" funding that covers emergency situations, such as a broken heating system that could leave people with no heat.
The state approved 6,566 cash applications in York County through Jan. 30, compared with 6,333 applications for the same period last season, she said. It has approved 822 applications for crisis aid this season, compared with 667 crisis applications for the same period last season, Gillis said.
The Department is accepting applications through April 4, with the program shortened or extended depending on availability of funding.
Casey said in a press release that only about 20 percent of the people who are eligible for the program are actually accessing it. Miller said that's because people either aren't aware the program exists, or they think they won't be eligible.
For the 2013-2014 season, a single person is eligible if he or she has an income of $17,235. Income eligibility increases by number of people in a household. For example, a family of four can't make more than $35,325 this year.
To apply for the program, visit www.compass.state.pa.us or call 1-800-991-0929. Applications can also be submitted at the York County Assistance Office, 130 N. Duke Street.
— Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.