Albany, N.Y.-- "There are some long months ahead in what's already been an expensive winter for heating our homes. It's important that we're finally delivering some timely financial assistance to ease the hardship of the monthly gas and electric bill," State Senator George H. Winner, Jr. (R-C, Elmira) said today as the Senate gave final legislative approval to legislation enacting an agreed-upon, $100 million infusion of state aid into theHome Energy Assistance Program (HEAP).
The legislation was given unanimous Senate approval. It was approved earlier today by the Assembly.
Winner said that the Legislature has agreed to add $50 million to the $50 million increase in HEAP funds recently proposed by New York Governor George Pataki. The funding will prevent the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance’s (OTDA) anticipated shutdown of the program in March and provide additional HEAP benefits to seniors and other low-income New Yorkers. The funding can also be used for additional emergency grants to help prevent senior and low-income households from having their electricity or gas shut off due to an inability to pay.
The state Senate convened a special legislative session last September, at which time lawmakers approved a comprehensive legislative strategy to help consumers offset the rising cost of gasoline and to initiate a direct heating fuel rebate check to seniors. Winner said that the Senate will continue to fight for inclusion of the senior rebate program and other energy-cost aid in the 2006-07 state budget.
"Better late help than no help at all," said Winner. "This agreement to revitalize HEAP doesn't put to rest the impact of high heating fuel costs this winter. We need to stay focused on doing everything we can to continue to help ease this winter's financial burden."
Twenty percent of seniors are foregoing needed medications to pay for their heat, according to a recent AARP study, and 80 percent of New Yorkers believe the state should help those who cannot afford the huge increase in their bills. HEAP applications in New York State have risen by as much as 25 percent and with the number of estimated eligible households at more that two million, the number of applicants to the program are expected to increase even further. It's been reported that home heating oil prices in New York State are up by 21 percent over last year and 60 percent over two years ago. Natural gas prices have also shot up in similar fashion. At the same time, HEAP grants have remained flat.
HEAP eligibility in New York is based on household size and income. For example, gross monthly income for a household of two must be at or below $2,358 and for a household of four must be at or below $3,468.
The HEAP help line can be contacted at 1-800-342-3009. Applications and other information can also be requested from the OTDA web site.
Seniors are also encouraged to contact their county Office for the Aging for information and assistance:
> CHEMUNG COUNTY: 737-5520
> SCHUYLER COUNTY: 535-7108
> STEUBEN COUNTY: 776-7813
> TOMPKINS COUNTY: 274-5482
> YATES COUNTY: 536-5515