Governor David A. Paterson today continued his efforts to urge the Federal government to fund the Federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) at last year's level of $5.1 billion. If Congress does not provide adequate LIHEAP funding and the President does not release $590 million in contingency funds as a stopgap measure, the State's Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) will be forced to discontinue heating assistance to vulnerable low income New Yorkers in January. In the absence of federal action to date to resolve the HEAP funding situation, the HEAP benefits program would have been shutting down in early December. In order to avoid shutting the program down so early in the heating season, the Governor has reprioritized the use of the limited available federal HEAP funding normally set aside for weatherization efforts to focus on the core of the program, which is providing benefits so New Yorkers in need can keep their heat on in the winter. However once those funds run out, which could be as soon as early January, the State will be unable to provide heating assistance to seniors and other low-income residents without federal action.
"The Federal government has the ability to address a most basic need of cash-strapped New Yorkers currently unsure how they will afford to heat their homes this winter," Governor Paterson said. "By refusing to cut the low-income heating assistance program in this time of widespread economic distress, Congress would guarantee that New York will be able to assist these families who need our support. I commend New York's Senators and Representatives for their ongoing efforts on this vital issue, and urge them to ensure funding levels are maintained. Without federal action before year end, our State will not be able to provide essential support to needy families and individuals through the coldest months of winter."
Last winter, New York issued more than 1.9 million HEAP benefits, a record high. If Congress fails to provide adequate funding, New York will not be able to address even last year's level of need. Given that the State's economic recovery is progressing more slowly than projected and more New Yorkers are expected to qualify for HEAP, a funding reduction of this magnitude will result in many New York families and seniors facing the cold winter months without heating assistance.
Congress has yet to enact the Federal Fiscal Year 2011 Labor/HHS appropriations bill, which includes funding for LIHEAP. The Senate has proposed only $3.3 billion nationally for LIHEAP, of which New York would likely receive approximately $277 million, a reduction of more than $200 million from last year. The House has proposed $5.1 billion nationally for LIHEAP, of which New York would likely receive $479 million. Currently the government is operating under a continuing resolution that expires December 3, which only provides $207.4 million for LIHEAP to New York State. It's imperative that Congress act in December to approve full funding at the $5.1 billion level to avoid program closure in January. With a projected increase in qualifying applicants, maintaining last year's funding level would provide substantial support to the State program. Such funding would mean the difference between the State being forced to shut the program down in the coldest months of the year or allowing the program to remain open through late winter. Funding at the $5.1 billion level would also potentially allow New York to restore some of the weatherization funding that was diverted out of necessity to heating benefits.
Earlier this month, the Governor sent a letter to President Obama outlining the need for quick action to fully fund the LIHEAP program and requesting the immediate release of contingency funds to avoid a potential early shut down of New York's Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP). With residential energy prices already on the increase for this coming winter, the Governor stressed that a decrease in LIHEAP funding would be devastating to those who rely on this essential program.
Last week, Governor Paterson met with the New York State Congressional Delegation to thank them for their efforts on behalf of the State and urge them to act on a number of key legislative issues t hat must be addressed before the end of the year, including the maintenance of funding for the LIHEAP program. The Governor also sent a letter to the State's Congressional Delegation asking for support and passage of initiatives vital to New York's continued economic recovery.
Applicants are encouraged to apply early for HEAP benefits, as they are awarded to eligible households on a first-come, first-served basis. New Yorkers can check to see if they may be eligible for HEAP, and numerous other benefits, by visiting: myBenefits.ny.gov.