MERCER COUNTY, Pa. (WKBN) – The 27 Storm Team has been warning us about this weekend’s snow and cold over the past week. Based on the temperature outside, it’s crucial to have heat going in your home.

Each winter, Mercer County residents can apply for LIHEAP benefits to help with heating expenses, but with extended utility moratoriums this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pennsylvania has made some changes to the program.

People in Pennsylvania have had options for heat assistance since December 1, 2019 — that’s when last year’s LIHEAP benefits started.

The Pennsylvania Utility Commission issued a moratorium on utilities in general in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That continued through the summer and LIHEAP 2020 began at the beginning of December.

The Director of Federal Programs for Pennsylvania said he hopes this helps families whose income has been impacted by the pandemic and subsequent restrictions.

“I think it was a wise decision by the PUC. I think it offers a lot of security to households, especially our low-income households we serve with LIHEAP. To know that these utility could not be shut off especially during this crazy time that we are currently living through,” said Brian Whorl, director for the division of federal programs at the Pennsylvania Bureau of Policy.

Whorl said many Mercer County families have been able to make use of the utilities moratorium.

As for LIHEAP, he says there’s been a small uptick in applications for the benefit statewide. Whorl thinks that warmer weather so far this year and summer moratoriums haven’t lead to a large spike yet.

To help residents fight cold temperatures, Pennsylvania has two types of LIHEAP benefits available.

Each year, Pennsylvanians who meet certain income requirements can get a LIHEAP cash grant ranging from $200 to $1000 for assistance with their heating expenses.

That’s calculated based on energy type, household size and your county.

Pennsylvania also has crisis LIHEAP available to help if someone’s in danger of losing their heating.

“To restore service if somebody’s been shut off from their natural gas or their electric, or to prevent a shut off… If it weren’t for the moratorium, for that side of things, for the crisis, if somebody has already received the LIHEAP cash, they actually can just call their CAO to request the crisis. They don’t even have to do an application for that,” Whorl said.

An application is required for the cash LIHEAP benefit, though.

Whorl says the easiest way to apply is online through the compass platform. From there, the application will be routed to your county assistance office automatically.

The office will begin processing it and will reach out if they need additional documentation.

If you’re applying to other human services benefits like SNAP or Medicaid, that will also be on the compass platform.

You’ll be able to complete the applications all together to make for a quicker and easier process.

Pennsylvania is allowed to take up to 30 days to process, but Whorl says the average right now is less than seven days.

As of right now, April 9, 2021 is the deadline for this year’s round of LIHEAP.

Whorl says that people uncomfortable with the online platform can send an application directly to their county assistance office.

If you have any questions, he suggests calling your CAO.

With the economic difficulties from the COVID-19 pandemic, Whorl recommends looking into the LIHEAP program or telling anyone you know who is in need to check it out.

There’s also an online tool where you can calculate your possible cash grant based on your income, fuel type and some other factors.