Wednesday, February 27, 2008

PULP Urges HEAP Program Reforms

On February 15, 2008 PULP filed comments with the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) urging changes in the state's Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP). HEAP is a federally funded block grant program, supervised by OTDA and implemented by local social services districts. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Act of 1981 (LIHEAA), 42 U.S.C.§§ 8621, et seq., sets broad parameters within which federal funding, appropriated annually by Congress and distributed through the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must be utilized. There are a few specific requirements in LIHEAA that all states must observe in their administration of the funds, e.g., a mandatory emergency component requiring prompt resolution of energy crises within specific time frames, the federal definition of eligible households, and maximum income eligibility standards. In general, however, most program design elements and benefit levels are left to be developed by the states through transparent needs assessment and public advisory processes.

The State legislature authorized the HEAP program by enactment of New York Social Services Law § 97. OTDA implements the program under its regulations in 18 NYCRR Part 393, and the annually developed State HEAP Plan, which is submitted by the Governor to HHS for federal approval. OTDA, the lead state agency, develops the annual HEAP Plan and supervises its implementation. Social services districts (the City of New York and departments of social services in each county outside New York City) administer HEAP locally. The State Office for the Aging and community organizations are also involved in program outreach and eligibility certification.

Each year, as part of the process of developing the State HEAP Plan for submission to HHS, OTDA conducts “needs assessment” hearings at which interested parties are invited to testify as to the home energy needs of low income households that should be addressed and the design of the program for the next year’s winter season. PULP submitted its comments pursuant to that request.

PULP's Comments
PULP's comments made the following points:
  1. HEAP Payments Should Not be Diverted by Utilities to Pay Stale Arrears of Applicants for Service, Which Should be the Subject of a Deferred Payment Agreement.
  2. Utility Vendor Agreements Need to be Clarified to Assure that Regular HEAP Payments Provide Assistance Primarily to Meet Immediate Home Energy Needs, and Are Not Allocated to Reduce Utility Bills from Prior Years
  3. The Plan Should Provide for Public Input Regarding Allocation of Supplemental Appropriations
  4. The HEAP Plan Should Specify that the Heating System Repair and Replacement Assistance Program will Use Energy Star Equipment
  5. The Heating System Repair and Replacement Program Should Not Exclude HEAP Eligible Households who Have a Contract for Deed.
  6. The Tenant of Record Requirement Excludes Eligible HEAP Households, is Unnecessary, Should be Reconsidered, and Eliminated
  7. HEAP Funding Must Be Increased
PULP raised these points at the February 27, 2008 meeting of the OTDA HEAP Block Grant Advisory Council. At the meeting PULP also urged OTDA and the State to oppose reductions in the HEAP program and complete elimination of the low income weatherization program proposed by President Bush in his budget for 2008 - 2009. See Bush Proposes LIHEAP Cuts in 2009 Budget, and Bush Proposes Elimination of Low Income Home Weatherization Program.

The webcast of the February 27 HEAP meeting is available at the OTDA public meetings web page.

For more information see PULP's web page on the New York HEAP program.

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