Friday, November 09, 2007

Veto Clouds New York's HEAP Program: More than 200,000 Households May Be Affected

The federal LIHEAP program makes "block grants" to the states for use in their home energy assistance programs, including New York's HEAP program. Because of the combination of a large population and a cold climate, New York state receives the nation's largest LIHEAP allocation. In the 2006 - 2007 HEAP year, New York issued more than one million HEAP benefits to needy low income households: 844,530 households received a regular HEAP benefit and 163,007 received an additional emergency grant.

Most of the "regular" and "emergency" HEAP funds are used by New York State to assist eligible household with their immediate home energy costs incurred for the current winter. They are not designed to pay old utility bills accrued from past years.

Under Section 97 of the New York Social Services Law, 15% of the LIHEAP funds received by the state are required to "be used for low-cost residential weatherization or other energy-related home repair for low-income households...." Further, "[n]o less than ten percent of the funds available to New York state under the federal low-income home energy assistance program shall be allocated to the division of housing and community renewal for its weatherization assistance program and shall be expended as provided in the annual New York state weatherization plan."

The federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) administers the LIHEAP funds and programs, and the New York State Department of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) oversees the program in New York State. New York announced the opening of the winter 2007 - 2008 HEAP program on November 1, 2007. The program operates until the federal funds are depleted.

Even though the 2008 federal fiscal year began October 1, 2007, the amount of federal funding for the current winter's program is not yet certain.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorized up to $5.1 billion for LIHEAP but appropriations have not approached even half that level. President Bush proposed a budget for 2007 - 2008 that would cut the LIHEAP program 17.6% from last year's level, from $2.16 billion to $1.78 billion.

In contrast, if the LIHEAP program had simply kept up with the general level of inflation since it began in 1981, the funding level would be $4.2 billion. The House of Representatives proposed to increase the 2008 program to $2.66 billion, but subsequently a lower House-Senate compromise funding level was reached at $2.42 billion.

President Bush on November 13, 2007 vetoed the federal HHS budget bill containing a $2.42 billion appropriation for LIHEAP, saying "it spends too much." See Bush Veto Hits Heating Bill Aid Program for Poor.

According to a November 8, 2007 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the reduced level of funding proposed by the President in his budget for the LIHEAP program would result in $76.4 million less for New York's HEAP program. As a consequence, CBPP estimates that approximately 207,900 fewer New York households would receive assistance. Also, under the President's proposed reduction in funding, New York state's low-income weatherization programs would face reductions of at least $7.6 million in 2008.

With expected 2007-2008 winter heating costs rising by more than 10%, more LIHEAP funding, not less, is needed to assist households in making this winter's energy burdens more affordable, and for the longer range cost effective weatherization programs that reduce future energy burdens of low-income households by making their homes more efficient.

For more information about the New York HEAP program see PULP's Winter Extra.

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