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MARGARET HARKINS v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (07/13/83)

decided: July 13, 1983.

MARGARET HARKINS, PETITIONER
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WELFARE, RESPONDENT



Appeal from the Order of the Department of Public Welfare in the case of Appeal of: Margaret Harkins, Case No. LIEAP, Dated July 13, 1981.

COUNSEL

Janet Parrish, for petitioner.

Carol A. Genduso, Assistant Counsel, for respondent.

Judges Blatt, Williams, Jr. and Craig, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Williams, Jr.

Author: Williams

[ 75 Pa. Commw. Page 456]

Margaret Harkins (petitioner) appeals from the Final Administrative Action order of the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) denying her Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) benefits.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Act of 1981 (Act), 42 U.S.C. §§ 8621, et seq., authorizes grants to states for assistance to eligible low income households to offset the rising costs of home energy that are excessive in relation to household income. "Home energy" is defined within the Act as being any fuel used for heating or cooling in a residential dwelling. 42 U.S.C. § 8622(3). In order for a LIEAP benefit payment to be made to a household, that household must be economically at risk for rising costs of home energy.

The federal regulations draw a distinction between "eligibility for assistance" and "eligibility to receive a LIEAP benefit payment." See 45 C.F.R. §§ 260.150(a) and 260.152(a). While a household might be considered eligible for consideration to receive a LIEAP benefit payment because of the level of income in the household, a state need not provide for payment of LIEAP benefits to that household. Congress did not devise strict guidelines for determining whether an applicant is eligible to receive a LIEAP benefit payment. That determination is left to the States. The only requirement prescribed by Congress was that an applicant household be "vulnerable to rising low-income energy costs," i.e., economically at risk for rising costs of home energy.

The petitioner receives a public assistance grant in the amount of $262.00 a month. Pursuant to federal

[ 75 Pa. Commw. Page 457]

    regulations her income level makes her eligible for consideration to receive assistance. 45 C.F.R. § 260.150. She resides in a federally-subsidized "Section 8" housing unit where she pays $39.00 a month for rent, including heat. The petitioner's residence has a heating system which burns gas fuel. However, individually-metered electric burners and blowers are required to power each tenant's heating unit. The petitioner receives a federally-established monthly utility allowance of $25.00, which is intended to meet the cost of electricity. The petitioner is responsible for the payment of all electric charges in excess of her monthly utility allowance of $25.00.

During the period of November, 1980 through March, 1981 the petitioner incurred electric bills which were substantially greater than her monthly utility allowance. Consequently, on December 2, 1980 the petitioner applied to her County Assistance Office (CAO) for LIEAP benefit payments. On the same date, CAO determined that the petitioner was ineligible to receive LIEAP benefit payments because the petitioner was a resident of a federally-subsidized housing unit and paid her rental costs pursuant to a straight-line payment arrangement, i.e., the petitioner's rent was a fixed amount that included heating costs. The CAO concluded that the petitioner was invulnerable to rising home energy costs, and therefore ineligible for LIEAP benefit payments. The petitioner appealed the CAO's decision on February 19, 1981. Initially the petitioner was notified by DPW that she had thirty days from December 2, ...


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