Tired of being cold, Joann Goodman of Larksville was one of about 13,000 to apply for heat assistance this winter in Luzerne County.
It’s turning out to be a banner year for those needing a hand with their energy bills. So far, there have been about 70 percent more approved applications than last year for heating-bill assistance through the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
As of Jan. 4, that amounts to 9,741 cash-assistance applications approved out of 13,051 submitted. Last year on Jan. 5 there were only 5,675 approved, according to the state Department of Public Welfare.
While temperatures hovered around zero and frigid winds blew, Goodman was at the Commission on Economic Opportunity’s LIHEAP crisis center Tuesday morning to apply.
Her home, one she bought last year, is heated by oil. She said the fuel goes much faster than she ever expected and she’s on “pins and needles” as she figures how to keep it warm this winter.
Goodman lives there with her daughter and her dog and cat.
She has a fireplace, and she turns off the heat when she’s home. But even with the fire burning, it’s still cold, she said.
“When I left the house today, with no heat last night and burning the fireplace … my house was at 40,” Goodman said. “I can’t imagine what it went down to when I was at work.
“I checked the oil two days after Christmas and I had half a tank. It’s $900 to fill the tank. I never realized that it went that quick. It really wasn’t that cold last week. And then last night, wouldn’t you know it, it shut off. … There’s only about 5 gallons in there,” Goodman said. “In that short of time, we went through half a tank and I have my heat set on 64.”
CEO began accepting LIHEAP applications for oil heat assistance Thursday, said Jennifer Warabak, CEO’s emergency energy coordinator.
“Our office and a second office in Hazleton did close to 150 applications already,” she said Thursday. “Last year, the whole first day, we were about 120, so we’re ahead of the game already.”
No-heat cases up
Demand statewide also is soaring.
An annual survey completed by the state’s Public Utility Commission reports at least 19,653 Pennsylvania homes are completely without heat this winter. That’s up from 15,197 cases counted last year.
Families living in these homes stand to suffer most as temperatures this week broke 26-year low records and are expected to stay below freezing for some time.
The PUC’s survey found utility providers had stopped service to these homes. The survey took into account only electric and natural gas heat-heated homes. Homes heated by delivered oil were not factored in.
In a statement, PUC Chairman Robert Powelson urged families without heat to research options for help.
“With the coldest months of the year still ahead, it remains critically important for consumers without heat-related utility service to learn about the options available to allow them to reconnect service,” he said.
The survey also shows at least 1,628 homes are being heated with unsafe sources such as ovens, space heaters and kerosene heaters.
The PUC’s Cold Weather Rule runs from Oct. 15 to April 15 each year. The rule makes it harder for utilities to simply disconnect service for late payments, but shut-offs are still possible.
Customers must communicate their need to their utility and devise some plan to pay the bill, the PUC says. If repeated attempts by the utility to contact the customer fail, the utility is allowed to stop service.
Law requires utilities to offer a Cold Weather Rule plan to financially strapped customers.
Keep out the cold
CEO’s winter weatherization program runs year round and provides insulation and weather stripping around doors and windows. The commission treats about 500 homes each year using funds from the U.S. Department of Energy.
The commission estimates proper insulation and airtight windows and doors save households about $430 each year in heating costs.
Joe Calore, the weatherization program’s director, said families can cut costs in the winter with a few extra steps.
“Air sealing is always an important measure in that there are some things residents can do on their own,” he said.
For those who don’t qualify for assistance in sealing up their homes, Calore suggests installing plastic over leaky windows and turning down the thermostat at night or when out of the house to reduce heating bills.
Emergency heating assistance through LIHEAP is available for those families living at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty line.
CEO has a new office at 206 Carey Ave., Wilkes-Barre, where families can apply for assistance. This office can help only those who use delivered oil heat.
Those who need help with electric or gas heat should apply in the Department of Public Welfare office at 205 S. Washington St., Wilkes-Barre.