HEAP applications expected to soar

Even though it’s midsummer, concerns about heating bills this winter are starting to make people ner

Even though it’s midsummer, concerns about heating bills this winter are starting to make people nervous.

State and county officials are anticipating increases in the number of residents who will seek assistance though the state’s Home Energy Assistance Program.

The program is scheduled to open on Nov. 3, but people are already making inquiries on how to apply — which is done through the Department of Social Services in each county.

Gerald Norlander, executive director of the Public Utility Law Project in Albany, said, “We have gotten calls from folks who never got HEAP before. They are looking at oil bills now and saying ‘Oh My God, there is no way can we afford it.’ ”

Last winter it was the heating oil customer that took a beating.

“This year, heating oil is staying high and has gone up and the natural gas is catching up and is also really high. We are seeing this playing out this summer in electricity bills,” Norlander said.

David A. Hansell, commissioner of the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, is calling on Washington to provide additional funding for home energy assistance to help address what he called a “pending crisis for low-income families this winter.”

“As is obvious from everyday accounts in the papers, we can expect a very difficult heating season ahead, particularly for low-income and vulnerable New Yorkers, as home-delivered fuel and utility costs continue to soar,” Hansell said in a statement.

“First and foremost, HEAP is a federally funded program and properly so, as the cost of energy is a national problem. The president and the Congress simply have to put additional HEAP formula and contingency funds forward as soon as possible at the federal level to address the crisis in affordable home heating fuel and electricity,” he said.

Hansell spoke on Friday at a public hearing in Albany on the state’s Home Energy Assistance Program.

The money New York receives for HEAP is allocated by the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance and then distributed through the counties.

HEAP funding provides heating cost assistance to households with 60 percent of the state median income or below, who either pay directly for heating costs or pay rent that includes heating costs.

Under the current proposal, New York would receive $213 million in formula funds and a to-be-determined amount of the $300 million in federal contingency funds.

In the last federal fiscal year, New York received a total of $357.8 million — $248 million in formula funds and $109.8 million in contingency funds.

HEAP preliminary numbers by county through the end of April 2008 are: Albany, 12,256 recipients at $4.6 million; Montgomery, 6,426 recipients at $2.9 million; Saratoga, 9,925 recipients at $4.4 million; Schenectady, 8,119 recipients at $3.2 million; Schoharie 3,171 recipients at $1.5 million; and Rensselaer, 8,639 recipients at $3.6 million.

The disability office is advocating for changes in HEAP that include increased individual allocations and air conditioners where it is a medical necessity.

Categories: Schenectady County

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