Facing a nearly 30 percent increase in fuel costs this winter, proposed cuts to New York's Low-Income Heating Energy Assistance Program could make life difficult for North Country residents, especially senior citizens, said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer in a conference call Oct. 12.
The Senate and House have more or less the same number in mind for budgeting LIHEAP, $3.4 billion in the Senate and $3.39 billion in the House.
The sticking point for Schumer is how the House allocated the funding among the states. New York would see their LIHEAP funds drop from $428 million to $343 million.
“In New York we do better than anyone at getting funding, because we have a lot of cold and a lot of people,” said Schumer.
If the House bill was adopted, LIHEAP funds would be denied to some and cut for others, said Schumer. For fixed-income seniors, losing the funding means the gap has to be covered by other personal budget items like food or medicine, or the thermometer dials will be set colder.
“It's a lot of tough, tough, tough choices,” said Schumer.
A national economic downturn combined with storm damages in New York this year are stretching citizen's budgets, said Schumer. Those already vulnerable will be at greater risk if funds are cut, he said.
According to a spokesman for the Administration for Children and Families, which calculates and distributes LIHEAP awards, funding dropped from $5.1 billion in fiscal year 2010 to $4.7 billion in 2011. A reduction to $3.4 billion would mark a one-third drop since 2010.
Marc Kaplan, spokesman for New York's Office of Temporary Disability and Assistance, said they don't yet know what the federal government will set the funding level at, but because the office knows that there will be cuts, there will be some program tightening.
“This year, all the proposals call for cuts,” said Kaplan.
Last year, the maximum regular award for a LIHEAP applicant was $700. This year, it will drop to $500. The application period will be shortened to begin Nov. 16 instead of Nov. 1.
In 2010, LIHEAP was funded with $4.7 billion, according to data on the U.S. Department of Human Service's LIHEAP website. New York received the largest LIHEAP award among all states, receiving about $521 million in funding.
The North Country had 61,434 LIHEAP beneficiaries in 2010, with 644,812 benefiting statewide.