Winter-weary Centre County residents take advantage of low-income heating aid

As single-digit, and sometimes subzero, temperatures blow across Centre County, heating costs have been hitting residents square in the wallet.

According to the National Weather Service, Friday lows are expected to be below zero with wind chills as low as minus-30 degrees. More single-digit lows are predicted for the beginning of next week, with highs still below freezing.

Colder temperatures mean higher heating bills, and for those on fixed or low incomes, these costs can mean the difference between paying for heat or paying the rent. This puts a hefty demand on the agencies that serve these families in need.

Households may only be making $1,200 to $2,000 a month, but will spend hundreds filling up on fuel oil, Interfaith Human Services Executive Director Ruth Donahue said. To help relieve that burden, IHS offers some options to provide heating assistance.

The Centre County Fuel Bank, operated through IHS, has been around since 2004, Donahue said. This partnership between the organization and about a dozen other agencies helps identify low-income consumers and deliver the fuel they need.

Those eligible for assistance can use any type of deliverable heating fuel, she said, meaning a fuel that can come to their homes by vehicle. This includes coal, wood, propane or fuel oil.

These households must be county residents, 150 percent below the federal poverty line and receiving LIHEAP assistance.

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program is administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare and provides a grant to help families pay heating bills or are in heating emergencies. Families in need can apply for LIHEAP through IHS, Donahue said.

So far, about 50 households have taken advantage of the fuel bank services, she said.

Residents in northern and western parts of the county have a new option for heating assistance thanks to Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement funds granted to the county last year.

PHARE grants are provided through Act 13 funding, according to Centre County Planning and Development Office senior planner Linda Marshall. Act 13 provides extra funding to “gas development areas.”

Funding is set aside each month to be used in the county Heating Assistance and Support Program for eligible households, she said. In prior years, grant funds have gone to help low-income renting assistance.

These PHARE funds are used strictly for fuel oil, Donahue said. Residents must live in an active well area or adjacent township, at 200 percent below the poverty level and have appropriate documentation of lease or mortgage.

Eligible townships include Burnside, Curtin, Boggs, Snow Shoe and Rush and adjacent townships, she said. About 150 households are in the support program.

The PHARE funding has expanded the number of eligible households for assistance, Donahue said, saying additional flexibility is “wonderful, because even though the cost of fuel oil has come down, we’re using a lot in a winter like this.”