Last updated: February 19. 2013 9:53PM - 239 Views

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Arguing the need is greater in a tough economy and the government expense pays for itself by being immediately returned to the private sector, U.S. Sen. Robert Casey announced a push to provide $4.7 billion for heating assistance for low-income families.

The federal program, called the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, has been cut in the last three years from $5.1 billion to $3.5 billion, Casey, D-Scranton, said during a teleconference Wednesday.

He and other senators have sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking for an increase next year that amounts to a 55 percent boost.

He said the cost of fuel has risen, with a projected 19 percent increase in oil and 15 percent in natural gas next year.

Additional cuts will leave Pennsylvanians literally – not figuratively, but literally – out in the cold, Casey said. We are requesting no less than $4.7 billion be budgeted this year.

About $3.02 billion is currently requested for the program in 2013.

Casey cited a study done for Congress that estimated the impact of federal spending in several programs. Every dollar spent through LIHEAP generates $1.13 in economic activity, Casey said.

So there's a double benefit, Casey said. Not just the obvious benefit to the family served, but the impact it has on the economy overall.

Data provided by Casey's office showed LIHEAP money for Luzerne County has dropped from $10.5 million in 2011 to $5.5 million proposed for 2013.

The money is used in two ways: as emergency, one-time help of up to $400 for problems like broken furnaces or loss of utility service, and cash grants paid directly to utilities or fuel providers to help subsidize the cost of heating.

Those with eligible income levels and need can apply online this year at www.compass.state.pa.us, or can download an application from the state Department of Public Welfare at www.dpw.state.pa.us.

The form can be filled out and returned to the Luzerne County Public Assistance Office, 205 S. Washington St., Wilkes-Barre. The local phone number is 826-2041.

Applications for emergency money can also be made at the Commission for Economic Opportunity by calling 826-0510.

Casey said he appreciates the need to cut federal spending, but said LIHEAP was the wrong program to attack.

I voted for $1 trillion in cuts already, and I believe we need to make more cuts for sure, Casey said. But we need to make cuts that are smart and that get us to a balanced budget in a bipartisan way.

These are real lives. I just hope the people in Washington, especially elected officials who have government salaries, government health care and a lot of benefits, I hope they would do their best to see what real people are living through, he said.

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