Saratoga County

Basic LIHEAP benefit to be sharply reduced

Home heating oil prices are expected to hit record levels this winter, but there will be less govern

Home heating oil prices are expected to hit record levels this winter, but there will be less government money available to those seeking help with heating costs, county officials said Monday.

The basic benefit paid by the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to New York state residents is being cut from $600 last winter to either $250 or $450, depending on the heat source used. Oil and gas customers qualify for the higher benefit level, wood users for the lower level.

Those are the numbers from the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, based on projected federal funding levels, county Social Services Commissioner Robert Christopher said.

“They’re trying to reach the same number of families with a much-reduced budget,” Christopher told the county’s Social Programs Committee meeting in Ballston Spa.

The Obama administration proposed reducing the nationwide LIHEAP program from $5.1 billion last winter to $2.57 billion this year. The House of Representatives is currently considering adding money, but the total is expected to be far less than last winter.

In 2010-2011, the Saratoga County Social Services Department received 11,925 applications for LIHEAP assistance, up 16 percent from the winter before.

Social Services Committee Chairman Richard Lucia, R-Corinth, said he expects the number of applicants to grow again this winter, as people continue to wrestle with a sluggish economy, stagnated incomes and high energy costs.

Christopher said it’s quite typical for the federal government to set a funding level at the start of winter, and then award more money if that funding runs out. “Hopefully we get a little relief down the road, but we can’t count on it,” he said.

The federal Energy Information Administration is projecting that home heating oil will sell for a record-high average of $3.71 a gallon this winter, due to continuing volatility in the world oil market.

A group of 88 members of Congress, including Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, last week urged House leadership to approve more heating assistance funding.

“Energy is a basic need and without LIHEAP assistance, low-income families, senior citizens and the disabled faced difficult choices between paying their home energy bills or affording other basis necessities such as prescription drugs or food,” the members of Congress wrote in their joint letter.

Categories: Schenectady County

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