Josh Leroux, co-owner of Leroux Fuels in Plattsburgh, delivers home-heating fuel to a residence on Surrey Drive in West Chazy.
What is HEAP?
The Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) is a federally funded program intended to assist low-income households in meeting their energy expenses. HEAP may also assist with heating equipment and repair for eligible households.
There are Regular and Emergency heating benefits. An eligible household may receive one Regular HEAP benefit per program year.
•Regular HEAP is a one-time program year benefit based on gross income, household composition, energy costs and type of heating situation. Regular benefits for households that pay directly for heat based on actual usage are paid directly to the vendor that supplies the household's primary source of heat.
•Emergency HEAP assists low-income New Yorkers who are facing a heat or heat related energy emergency and do not have resources available to resolve the emergency. Heat-related emergencies may include less than a quarter of a tank of fuel or propane; less than 10 days supply of wood, wood pellets or coal; or have a shut-off notice from their electric company.
LIHEAP Program Dates
Regular Heating: Nov. 16, 2011 - March 16, 2012
Emergency Heating: Jan. 3 - March 16, 2012
Regular HEAP Benefits
$450-$500: Fuel oil, kerosene, and propane
$250-$300: Wood, pellets, coal, corn, electric, natural gas
Emergency HEAP Benefits
$600: Fuel oil, kerosene, and propane
$560: Electric or natural gas combined with heat-related domestic
$400: Natural gas only
$350: Wood, pellets, coal, corn
$160: Heat-related domestic (electric service required to operate heating equipment)
•Clinton County Department of Social Services, 13 Durkee St., Plattsburgh, (518) 565-3258
•County Office for the Aging (those 60 years of age and older can apply here), (518) 565-4620
Clinton County officials are dealing with major funding cuts to the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) by using more local dollars to make sure families stay warm this winter.
HEAP, as it is known locally, is a federally funded program that helps low-income households meet their energy needs during the winter. President Barack Obama signed a budget bill (Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012) on Dec. 23 that cut HEAP funding from $4.7 billion to $3.478 billion.
HEAP money trickles down to counties, where it’s distributed to help eligible families.
“It’s affected us already,” said Clinton County Social Services Commissioner Jay LePage, adding that his office has been “mobbed” since Jan. 3, when the emergency funding period for HEAP began.
HEAP has two main funding categories: Regular, which is available from Nov. 16, 2011 to March 16, 2012; and Emergency, which runs from Jan. 3 to March 16, 2012.
One of the biggest hardships for county workers and the local families they serve, according to LePage, has been the funding schedule change, which was shortened this year. Last winter, Regular and Emergency HEAP funding began on Nov. 1, 2010 and ran through mid-May, 2011.
Foreseeing cuts to HEAP, the Clinton County Social Services Department budgeted more money this year to help deal with low-income energy needs, according to LePage.
“We’ll help people who need it,” LePage said. “We don’t want anybody to freeze to death in Clinton County.”
While the HEAP cuts have forced Clinton County to use more local funds — and created mounds more paperwork in the process — LePage said low-income residents will also be impacted as they try to heat their homes this winter.
HEAP reduced the Regular benefit amounts for 2011-12. Here are those benefits, according to Clinton County officials.
•Deliverable Fuels: In 2010-11, the base benefit was $600 for oil, kerosene, propane, wood, pellets, coal and corn. This year, the benefit is $450-$500 for fuel oil, kerosene, and propane; and $250-$300 for food, pellets, coal, and corn.
•Utilities: In 2010-11, the base benefit was $400 for electric and natural gas. This year, the maximum benefit is $300.
The benefit reduction has made life difficult for many Clinton County families this winter, according to LePage, who sees the irony in the federal government’s decision to cut HEAP funding when Americans need it the most, at a time when home energy prices continue to rise.
Take fuel oil, for example. As of Jan. 2, the average cost of home heating oil in New York was $4.08 per gallon, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. That’s a rise from $3.51 this time in 2011, $3.05 in 2010, and $2.53 in 2009.
“I’m paying $600 oil bills every three weeks,” LePage said. “I can do it, but many people cannot afford to do that.”
By the numbers
New York will see a 24 percent drop in HEAP funding for the winter of 2011-12 — $375.7 million, which is down from $495 million in 2010-11.
It is unclear how much federal funding Clinton County will get from HEAP this year, according to LePage, since the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) releases HEAP block grants to states at various times throughout the season. HHS distributed the initial block grant of $1.853 billion on Oct. 31 and an additional $845 million on Dec. 22, for a total of $2.581 billion. More will be released later this winter.
Last year, Clinton County distributed about $7 million in HEAP funding for its 10,344 cases (7,387/Regular and 2,957/Emergency), according to LePage.
In November and December 2011, Clinton County processed 7,010 HEAP cases, helping 15,491 residents.
“We did a lot (of HEAP funding) in the two weeks at the end of December,” LePage said.
Future of HEAP
The federal government continues to cut HEAP funding, which helped heat 8.9 million households in the U.S. last winter. The budget was $5.1 billion in 2010; $4.7 billion in 2011; and $3.478 billion in 2012. President Obama originally proposed the program be cut to $2.57 billion in 2012, but the U.S. Congress settled on the higher amount.
Asked what Clinton County would do without HEAP, LePage said, “It would be a disaster ... It’s vitally important to people of the North Country.”
LePage said many people don’t understand HEAP and the kind of residents it helps. While a portion of the people who get HEAP benefits also receive public assistance, most are elderly, disabled or the working poor.