As real as the global warming phenomenon is, most homeowners would be hard-pressed to tell by looking at their monthly heating bills. Especially those living in upstate New York at this time of year.
New Yorkers pay roughly $2,400 to heat their homes every winter, which is about one-third more than the national average. Those who take steps to weatherize their homes pay a lot less — very close to the $1,800-a-year national average, in fact — so doing things like insulating, weatherstripping and caulking, and buying high-efficiency heating systems makes a lot of sense because the energy savings pay for the improvements in just a few years.
Unfortunately, the cost of these improvements is still beyond the reach of many low- and middle-income New Yorkers, and the federal program that provides help for them has been cut dramatically the past couple of years. Consequently, thousands of New Yorkers who are on waiting lists for assistance are being forced to spend hundreds more dollars heating their homes than they need to. It’s a terrible waste of money.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand realizes this and has been stumping around the state with various members of New York’s congressional delegation in an effort to drum up support for a boost to the program. (She’s asking President Obama to more than double the program’s current funding level, to $210 million.)
It’s going to be a tough sell in Washington, what with deficit reduction seemingly the order of the day, but sometimes spending money makes sense when it saves money. And in this case, it does: roughly $2.50 for every dollar spent.
Perhaps deficit-conscious lawmakers would be more amenable to bolstering the program if it were modified to reach more people, though with less-generous benefits at the upper end. The income limit is $49,332 for a family of four, which isn’t unreasonable; but a sliding scale that provided smaller benefits above, say, $40,000 would help stretch program dollars.
It’s nice that the program pays 100 percent of the improvements’ costs, but it does seem a bit rich for families that are essentially at the national median income level.