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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Thousands Apply For Heating Help


Winter weather has yet to hit, but already thousands of people have applied for help with their heating bills.

With oil prices are on the rise and temperatures on the decline, some are looking to nonprofit organizations and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program so they will not be left in the dark and cold.

The state Department of Welfare program grant is based on household income, the number of people in the household and the type of heating fuel used.

A “crisis program” will provide those with a shutoff notice or less than a quarter of a tank of fuel with $300 to fill that need.

A family can receive assistance through the program once a season, unless they then receive the crisis grant or congress provides more funds.

The high cost of oil will lead to a particularly difficult winter. “This is the worst ... To a family on a very low income or a fixed income, they may be living paycheck to paycheck or probably close to becoming homeless because they may be using their rent money to buy oil.

The Salvation Army is another one of the nonprofit organization that may help with utility bills. Funds are limited, Pamela Hicks, social services director, said. To determine the need, “we meet with each family individually before we determine if we will help them,” Hicks said.

There are no specific guidelines to define “a need.”

“It’s subjective. Some family may have experienced a huge crisis ... It could be a number of things,” Hicks said. “There has to be a need.”

When financial help cannot be given, nonprofits often direct those in need to look to their local church, family and friends.

“We’re not able to help everybody and that’s the downside,” Hicks said.

Funds are made available to these and other agencies by federal and state dollars, utility companies, personal donations and the United Way.

According to the Responsible Utility Customer Protection Act, through the Public Utilities Commission’s Web site, electric and natural gas utility providers “shall not terminate service to customers with household incomes at or below 250 percent the federal poverty level.”

Illegal use of equipment and utilities can result in utilities being shut off without notice.

This article from the Williamsport Sun-Gazette was edited for length.

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