U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced that $50.6 million in home heating assistance funds will be made available to New York State for immediate use. In early January, Schumer had urged the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to immediately release the millions in reserve funds from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) intended for New York, and also successfully fought for an increase in funding for the program in the FY 2014 Appropriations Bill. As a result, HHS will release $454 million in home heating aid nationwide today, to be made available to states as early as tomorrow. Eligible New Yorkers can then access that federal funding through the State.
In light of record low temperatures and extreme weather slamming Upstate New York, Schumer has fought to address the fact that LIHEAP funding has been on a steady decline since 2011, despite the steady increase in home heating costs, below-average winter temperatures, and rising heating costs. Schumer today is thrilled that this $50.6 million investment will help address the fact that the number of eligible households has exceeded the available funding for the last several years. 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 wolf of winter-cold snapping at the door, this urgently needed home heating aid arrived not a moment too soon for countless New York seniors and struggling families," said Senator Schumer. "This massive release of $50.6 million in federal funding to New York will provide critical relief to residents and senior citizens who were being forced to choose between heating their homes or putting food on the table. With record-breaking freezes occurring in New York and across the country, there was simply no reason for the government to hold onto millions of dollars in home heating aid; I'm thrilled that the feds have quickly released this funding to New York for immediate use this winter."
The mission of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) 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% of households served by LIHEAP include an adult aged 60 or over.
Previous to Schumer's urging, The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which dispenses LIHEAP funds to the State of New York for distribution, had only dispensed $316 million allocated to New York, which left millions of dollars in reserve and unavailable to New Yorkers that needed it. Because appropriations are sometimes subject to change, the federal government typically holds back portions of annual funding until appropriations are secure. To help remedy that concern, Schumer also ought to increase federal funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in the FY2014 Appropriations Bill to $3.4 billion, up $169 million from FY2013.
Schumer said that New Yorkers, in particular, need this assistance more than ever. According to a recent report from AARP, New Yorkers could see home heating bills increase more than 13 percent this year. What's more, prices for natural gas have surged in response to the Polar Vortex.
Schumer believes that increasing this funding for New York would also have a positive impact on the state's economy. Economists Mark Zandi and Alan S. Blinder have calculated that every dollar from LIHEAP produces $1.13 in economic activity. Because LIHEAP funds drive weatherization and other energy efficiency efforts, power grids across the state are benefitted by an increase in their use. With more efficient heating and cooling across Upstate, there is less overall demand on the grid and consumers across the board save on utility costs.
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, and the total funding will be larger if Schumer's efforts to boost funding are successful.