WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — People are starting to turn on the heat in their homes this week as the temperature drops.
For those who struggle to pay those heating bills, help is now available.
The application period for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is officially open.
LIHEAP is a federally funded program from the Department of Human Services that provides cash grants to families who struggle to afford their heating bills during the winter.
This year, there's more money available, thanks to the American Rescue Plan.
The minimum cash grant is up from $200 to $500, and the maximum is now at $1,500 instead of $1,000.
Last year, more than 300,000 families got help from the program.
"Nobody should ever have to worry that their heat will be shut off during the coldest and darkest months of the year," said Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Acting Secretary Meg Snead. "As winter approaches and we prepare to spend even more time indoors, these bills are only going to get more expensive."
People who work at the United Neighborhood Centers in Scranton see it every day—families who can't afford to pay for the most basic needs.
"The need in the community right now is tremendous," said Megan Lee, with the United Neighborhood Centers. "We have a huge uptick in people coming. With the moratorium on evictions being lifted, we're seeing a huge housing crisis. But in addition, with the colder temperatures coming out, we're seeing people come out for utility shut-offs of pretty much every kind."
The nonprofit expects to see an influx of people coming in for help with applications for LIHEAP. This year, there's more money available, and there's more time to apply.
"Even just one payment or any kind of assistance can help families from making difficult decisions about where they're going to put their funds to sustain themselves and their families," said Lee.
About 300,000 families got help from the program last year. Employees at the United Neighborhood Centers believe it'll be even more asking for help this year.
"We have seen a lot of people come in that have never utilized these services before. So they're skeptical because they don't necessarily know what is a legitimate program. They're apprehensive because they don't know if it makes sense for them or they're allowed to."
You can either apply or online or come to your county's assistance office.
The application period has been extended this year to May 6.