When it comes to funding home-heating assistance programs, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey says cut elsewhere.
Though the state Department of Public Welfare has approved about 25 percent more cash-assistance applications in the state than last year, Casey, D-Scranton, said the average benefit is much lower.
As home-heating costs rise each year, individual grants approved have declined by about $100 per household since 2010, with federal funding to the program down by about 30 percent in recent years, Casey said. This year’s budget is already about $95 million short of last year’s. The 2013 appropriation was about $3.02 billion.
Casey is calling for President Barack Obama to preserve the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) when he drafts his 2015 budget proposal and set aside no less than $4.7 billion for the program.
In a letter he plans to soon send Obama — a letter signed by members from both parties — Casey reminds the president that 90 percent of LIHEAP recipients have at least one child in the home and seniors use LIHEAP money more than any other assistance to keep the heat on in the winter.
Out of 1.5 million state households eligible for assistance, current funding will cover only about 384,000 of them, Casey said.
“Basically,we’re only able to help one-fourth of those eligible,” Casey said. “That alone should be an indictment of Washington. Access to affordable home energy is not a luxury; it is a matter of health and safety.”
Heat assistance is not a matter to debate in Washington, rather it is a human issue that deserves proper consideration, he said.
“If you’re going to cut any program substantially, you should have an exhaustive analysis of the effects to people,” Casey said. “Reducing LIHEAP substantially is not a balanced approach.”
There is no indication the president will slash LIHEAP funding, he said.
“I want to make sure we’re out ahead of this,” Casey said. “I want to make sure we’re aware of the gravity of the problem, especially with the winter we’ve had over the last 48 hours.”
Heating prices to rise
When the thermometer dial dips lower, energy consumption always rises. And this week, Pennsylvanian’s broke all-time records.
PJM Interconnection, operator for the Mid-Atlantic electricity grid, said Tuesday’s power demand broke records during the the day when temperatures never left the single digits.
PPL electric utility reported a spike in electricity demand broke the all-time high set in February 2007. On Tuesday, PPL customers used enough energy to power 700 homes for one year, the company said.
UGI Penn Natural Gas also broke a record set last January, with 17 percent more gas consumed during the day.
It’s expected national natural gas costs will rise by 4 percent next year, according to the federal Energy Information Administration. Electricity costs are expected to rise on average by 2 percent.
On the converse, and likely to the relief of oil-heat customers, the administration predicts deliverable heating oil prices to drop by 5 percent in 2015.