Low-income residents in Crawford County are among those across the state who can receive help to pay home heating bills through the federal Low Income Heating Assistance Program.

In addition to LIHEAP, the Crawford County Office of Economic Opportunity has a program to assist with residents who have had utility services turned off because of non-payment.

The state will receive $120 million in a block grant for the program, according to Stacie Ward, communications spokesman with the state Department of Public Welfare.

However, that is for residents across the state. The county’s allocation is determined by number of applicants and money available — not a specific formula, Ward said.

People need not have an unpaid bill to receive the assistance. And, people can receive this money without being on welfare.

If a person is eligible for LIHEAP, a payment will be sent directly to the utility or fuel dealer and payment credited on the person’s bill. Money also is available in case of emergencies or if someone is in jeopardy of losing home heating utility service.

Emergency situations include:

Broken heating equipment or leaking lines that must be fixed or replaced.

Lack of fuel.

Termination of utility service.

Danger of being without fuel or having utility service terminated.

Notices are in the process of being mailed to those who received the grants last year. “If you received a grant last year, you should receive grant applications with the next few weeks for this year,” Ward said.

Those who didn’t receive money last year but who may qualify this year should gather information now to apply. Applications will be received starting Nov. 7 for the program, which runs through March 24, 2006 — or when the funds are depleted, whichever occurs first.

Application forms may be copied online at www.compass.state.pa.us. Applications then can be taken to the Crawford County Board of Assistance, 1084 Water St., Meadville.

To apply, one needs the following: names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers for all people in household; proof of income for household members; and a copy of a recent heating bill.

To be eligible, a family can earn no more than 135 percent of the Federal Poverty Income Guideline.

Becky Jones, director of the Crawford County Office of Economic Opportunity, reviews applications for financial help to get utility service restored. The process takes between 30 and 90 minutes.

Her funds help low-income people whose services have been terminated and who need to have them restored before winter. Although in the past those who were assisted made no co-pay, Jones said this year “we are asking people to help with their bill.” For example, if somebody has to pay $469 in overdue bills to have the service restored, she is asking for a co-pay of $100.

This is an attempt to stretch the dollars to help more people.

Discussing the increased number of calls she has received, she is stressing the need for those who may be facing a winter with no heat to make appointments immediately.

She also works with the Customer Assistance Program with Penelec to help customers get bills paid off over a long period of time. For example, if somebody owes $800 or $900, payments can be set up to pay the bill over a 36 months. Similar programs are available for Northwest Rural Electric Cooperative Association and National Fuel Gas.

To qualify for assistance, you must take proof of income, identification and the demand letter or shut-off notice to the appointment.

Grants for requests are made on a “first-come, first-served basis,” Jones said.

She also has funds available for those in school who may need help with car repairs, glasses, car insurance, or passes to ride Crawford Area Transpor-tation Authority buses.

• More information: Call Jones at 814-333-7374

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