In light of record low temperatures and extreme weather slamming Upstate New York, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called Wednesday and urged the Department of Health and Human Services to immediately release over $35 million in funds from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program that are currently being held back and will go to New York residents upon release.
Schumer urged his colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee to increase the LIHEAP funding above the FY 2013 levels in the Appropriations bill currently being negotiated, which will provide additional funding from Jan. 15 through Sept. 30.
LIHEAP protects Upstate New York's low-income homeowners and senior citizens, and since 2011, funding has dramatically declined despite the steady increase in home heating costs and below-average winter temperatures. Schumer noted that as funding has declined, the number of eligible households has continued to exceed the available funding.
Cattaraugus County has 10,468 HEAP recipients and has received $4,311,979 in HEAP funds.
Chautauqua County has 16,595 HEAP recipients and has received $6,371,775 in HEAP funds.
Schumer said that as Upstate New Yorkers experience historic frigid temperatures, caused by the polar vortex, the federal government should not be holding back critical heating aid for our most vulnerable citizens, especially considering that the unexpectedly cold weather may drive up heating costs. He also explained that the LIHEAP program will benefit all residents throughout Upstate New York by increasing energy efficiency in a greater number of homes, thus alleviating demand on the entire grid and reducing costs for consumers.
"With the polar vortex driving down temperatures in Upstate New York to record lows, the home heating assistance that the federal government provides for seniors and low-income households could not be more critical. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers rely on LIHEAP funding so that they don't have to make the choice between putting food on the table or buying prescription drugs, and heating their home, but there are approximately $35 million in federal funds intended for New York that are just sitting unused in the D.C. coffers," Schumer said. "In light of the extreme cold and potential for heating costs to skyrocket due to increased demand, I'm urging the Dept. of Health and Human Services to immediately release the remaining funds that were allocated to New York this year so we don't leave our seniors out in the cold."
Schumer continued, "In addition to the quick release of these already-allocated funds, I will fight to boost LIHEAP funds during the ongoing appropriations debate to help those seniors and low-income families pay for heating costs this upcoming year, from now through September 30th. Winters in New York can be especially brutal, and heating costs have steadily risen over the past five years; now is the time to add the program, not subtract, and I will make sure my colleagues are aware of all the benefits the LIHEAP program has to offer."
The mission of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program is to assist low income households and seniors, particularly those seniors with the lowest incomes, who spend a high proportion of their total household income on home energy. Specifically, New York families whose incomes are 150 percent of the federal poverty level or lower are eligible for LIHEAP funds, and the majority of LIHEAP recipients fall well below that threshold. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, particularly many senior citizens living on a fixed income, benefit from the program each and every year. The funding can offset the cost of more efficient heating units in the winter, more efficient air conditioners in the summer, as well as weatherization. In addition, individuals can receive assistance with their utility bills, which could see serious spikes as energy prices rise this winter. In reaction to the unexpectedly low temperatures caused by the polar vortex, heating costs could skyrocket as demand for energy increases.
Since LIHEAP funds are intended to aid seniors, families with a disabled member, and families with children under the age of six, home heating aid is a significant health issue as well as an economic one. Roughly 40 percent of households served by LIHEAP include an adult aged 60 or over.
Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers benefit from LIHEAP each and every year. Last year, from September 2012 through October 2013, over 1,575,590 households in New York received LIHEAP funding in the amount of $306,250,583. A similar number of eligible households are expected this year.