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Energy program jeopardized

July 14, 1998|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - More than a thousand Franklin County households could be left in the cold this winter if the U.S. House of Representatives votes to eliminate the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education voted last month to eliminate federal funding for the program, according to U.S. Rep. Bud Shuster's office.

Shuster, R-Pa., said in a press release that he supports continued funding.

Shuster's office said Monday the full House Appropriations Committee could vote on the subcommittee recommendation today.

Jane Chontos, an income maintenance caseworker supervisor for the Franklin County Board of Assistance, said on Monday that 1,045 households in the county received emergency assistance during the 1997-98 heating season. According to adjusted U.S. Census figures from 1993, there were more than 48,000 housing units in the county.

Chontos said qualified county households received an average of $193 last winter. Total spending in the program was $202,000.

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"It's a one-time grant each winter to assist you when prices go up" for gas, oil, electric or other heating costs, Chontos said.

Eligibility is based on federal income guidelines. Chontos said a household making 110 percent or less of the federal poverty level is eligible.

She said the federal poverty level for the past federal fiscal year was $17,655 for a family of four, a figure she said is adjusted each year.

Shuster's office said 286,000 Pennsylvanians received grants last year. Chontos said the state program was budgeted at $66.5 million.

Shuster and 180 other Congress members have sent a letter to the House Appropriations Committee urging $1.3 billion in funding for the heating program.

The letter also asks for $300 million in emergency funding for 1999 and the same amount for advance funding for the year 2000.

Chontos said the federal program is separate from those offered by utility companies, through which subscribers donate money on their bills to help the needy. She said the board of assistance sometimes refers families to those programs when grant money runs out, or if a grant is insufficient to carry a family through the winter.

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