PA Struggles with LIHEAP Application Backlog

June 5, 2013 — At the end of May, reports from Philadelphia estimated that 14,000 low-income households are waiting for Pennsylvania LIHEAP to process their applications. Of those, approximately 8,000 had been waiting more than 90 days.

Pennsylvania's state plan references that the Department of Public Welfare, the LIHEAP grantee, is supposed to send written notice regarding the decision of eligibility within 30 days of receiving an application.

In response to the backlog, the department changed a long-standing policy and negotiated with PECO, a major utility in Philadelphia, to prevent termination of service while it processed the applications.

"We are working hard to make sure that people do not meet unnecessary hardship," a department spokesperson told the media, "and are working diligently at completing all LIHEAP applications."

For low-income advocates, this year's situation is too similar to last year. A new computer system caused delays in processing applications in 2012, but the department had stated the problems were "addressed so they will not be repeated next year." Instead, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia calculated the backlog this year is 40 percent higher than in 2012.

A city of Philadelphia spokesperson attributed the current backlog to a shortage of caseworkers. A shakeup at the top of the Department of Public Welfare also happened recently, with the head of the agency resigning in February 2013.

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, LIHEAP Clearinghouse