SCHUMER: WITH WINTER JUST AROUND THE CORNER, SOUTHERN TIER’S MOST VULNERABLE RESIDENTS ARE GROWING CONCERNED ABOUT RECEIVING HOME HEATING ASSISTANCE ON TIME; SCHUMER URGES FEDS TO IMMEDIATELY RELEASE CRITICAL FUNDS TO HEAT SOUTHERN TIER HOMES QUICKLY & AT AS HIGH OF A LEVEL AS POSSIBLE
Heating Aid Will Help Thousands Of Vulnerable New York Seniors & Families Who Need Extra Help To Pay Their Heating Bills This Winter
Schumer Says Home Heating Costs Have Become A Larger And Larger Share Of Every New Yorker’s Budget
Schumer: Every Dollar Counts To Keep Southern Tier Seniors & Families Warm This Winter
Standing at Tioga Opportunities Inc. in Owego, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to immediately provide New York the maximum amount of funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Schumer said this critical home heating assistance program is vital for the Southern Tier’s most vulnerable seniors and families, who depend on this money due to the rising cost of home heating. Schumer said that with the harsh winter just around the corner, residents should not have to choose between paying their energy bills and purchasing other necessities, like food or medicine for their families.
“For hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who struggle to heat their homes, many of whom are seniors on fixed budgets, LIHEAP is a critical resource that helps offset the rising cost of heat and energy bills. With winter right around the corner, low-income households and seniors rely on this program to avoid making the agonizing decision over whether to pay energy bills or put food on the table,” saidSchumer. “That is why I am urging HHS to release LIHEAP funds at the highest amount possible, and as soon as possible. Doing so will help those in Tioga, Broome, Tompkins and other Southern Tier households, from Harpursville to Waverly, pay their bills on time and ensure we do not turn a cold shoulder to our most vulnerable residents during an already harsh winter.”
Schumer said that October marks the beginning of heating season, a period in which New Yorkers will pay more in monthly heating bills that lasts through the beginning of spring. However, as with winter just around the corner, Schumer said it is often the Southern Tier’s most vulnerable populations that face the concern over whether they will have to choose between heating their homes and putting food on the table. Schumer explained that, during colder months, seniors and low-income families tend to pay a disproportionately higher amount on their monthly energy bills compared with their monthly paychecks. This has made the federal heating assistance program even more critical for providing relief to families and seniors by helping offset their high energy bills.
The mission of LIHEAP is to assist low-income households and seniors, particularly those with the lowest incomes, who spend a high proportion of their total household income on home energy. The program does this by providing monthly benefits to recipients in the cold winter months as well as the hot summer seasons, when energy costs are at their highest. 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 during winter months. LIHEAP benefits for low-income households and seniors can cover the costs for bulk fuels, coal, pellets, wood, and other utilities.
Schumer said this program has been a lifeline for thousands of households across NY State during times of economic downtown and, more recently, with the rise of heating costs. Specifically, the program provides relief for Upstate NY families and seniors whose incomes are 150 percent of the federal poverty level or lower. 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. Schumer said that because most 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 as well.
Schumer said that with more than 26,000 households between Broome, Tioga and Tompkins County receiving LIHEAP funds, now is not the time to cut back on this critical resource that has helped so many. That is why Schumer is urging HHS to quickly release LIHEAP funds, and at as high of a level as possible, in order to allow states, seniors and low-income households to prepare for the upcoming winter season. The Binghamton and Greater Southern Tier Region as a whole relies on LIHEAP funds for low-income households and seniors each year. During last year’s LIHEAP allocation season, which ran from October 1, 2014 through September 30, 2015, approximately 6,578 households received regular LIHEAP benefits in Tioga County; approximately 1,348 households received emergency benefits. In the 2014-2015 season, 5,711 households in Tompkins County received regular LIHEAP funds; approximately 1,044 received emergency LIHEAP benefits. In Broome County, approximately 21,103 benefits – more than $7 million worth – were paid to LIHEAP recipients in Broome County during the 2014-2015 season. Schumer said these numbers could potentially grow if the 2015-2016 winter season is expected to be a particularly cold one.
During his visit to Tioga County, Schumer said the program is an especially vital resource in Tioga, where 32 percent of households typically receive LIHEAP benefits. Over $3.8 million in LIHEAP benefits were distributed across Tioga County during the 2014-2015 season, at an average of $464 per household. Across County households, roughly 51 percent of those receiving benefits included a person over the age of 60, a child under the age of 6, or a disabled individual. That is why Schumer is urging HHS to allocate the maximum amount LIHEAP funds, and as soon as possible, in order to prevent low-income families, including those with young children, and seniors from making difficult decisions on whether to heat their homes or pay for other necessities like food or medicine. Senator Jack Reed [D-RI] led the letter to HHS, which Schumer and 40 of his Senate colleagues signed onto in order to push HHS to release these funds immediately and at the maximum amount.
Schumer was joined by Shawn Yetter, Tioga County Commissioner of Social Services; Natalie Thompson, Director of Employment and Transitional Supports at Tioga County Department of Social Services; Art Johnson, Broome County Commissioner of Social Services; Maureen Abbott, Executive Director of Tioga Opportunities, Inc.; and LIHEAP recipients from both Tioga and Broome counties.
“Because of HEAP, the Tioga County Department of Social Services is able to provide a critical benefit for many Tioga County residents, especially our elderly. It is often the stop-gap solution for households that require assistance in order to afford fuel during the heating season and keep homes warm and safe throughout the winter months,” said Shawn Yetter, Tioga County Commissioner of Social Services.
"Almost fourteen thousand people rely on HEAP for heat in Broome County every year. About 2,000 of them are elderly. Without HEAP these residents would have to choose between paying for heating, food, or prescriptions. I commend Senator Schumer for advocating for this important benefit for our residents," said Art Johnson, Broome County Commissioner of Social Services.
Schumer has long fought to secure more funding for the LIHEAP program. Annual funding for LIHEAP has steadily declined at the federal level since a peak in 2011. Despite rising heating costs and lingering effects of the economic downturn, the federal LIHEAP appropriation declined from $4.7 billion in 2011 to only $3.25 billion in 2013 after sequestration. In 2014, Schumer wrote a letter to federal appropriators where he pushed for an increase in the budget for the federal LIHEAP. Following this push, LIHEAP was funded at $3.4 billion in FY2014, a $169 million increase.
Finally, in addition to helping Tioga County and the Southern Tier’s most vulnerable, Schumer said that immediately releasing the highest level of funding for New York would have a positive impact on the state’s economy. In 2014, economists Mark Zandi and Alan S. Blinder calculated that every dollar from LIHEAP produced $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.
A copy of Schumer’s letter to HHS appears below:
Dear Secretary Burwell:
As state agencies prepare their Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) programs for the winter, we respectfully request that the Department of Health and Human Services release LIHEAP funds as quickly and at as high of a level as possible under the current continuing resolution.
LIHEAP is the main federal program that helps low-income households and seniors with their energy bills, providing critical assistance during the cold winter and hot summer months. This funding has been an indispensable lifeline during challenging economic times, helping to ensure that recipients do not have to choose between paying their energy bills and paying for other necessities like food or medicine. On average, low-income families and seniors spend a higher proportion of their income on energy, and for many states, October marks the start of the heating season, creating an additional constraint on these household budgets.
As the relevant state agencies begin to provide assistance for this winter, it is critical that they have the resources to assist low-income households and seniors as soon as possible. Therefore, we request that you quickly release LIHEAP funds and at as high of a level as possible in order to allow states and low-income households to prepare for the upcoming season.
We look forward to continuing to work with you on this critical program, and thank you for your attention to our concerns and those of our constituents.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator