Thursday, September 25, 2008

Winter Heating Assistance Available for Households Using Oil and Other Non-Utility Heating Fuels

Households heating with oil are facing huge increases in their bills this year due to high prices. On November 3 the HEAP program will open to new applicants, and benefits will be available for eligible households. HEAP financial eligibility guidelines are online at the OTDA website.

It is likely that there will be many households that will face energy emergencies whose incomes are slightly above the HEAP guidelines, which are set at 60% of the state's median income.

The local departments of social service administer New York's Temporary Assistance (TA) program. Applicants for TA can receive a grant to resolve a non-utility home heating emergency during the winter months, even if their incomes are above the standard of need and payment for recurring monthly TA assistance grants. According to an OTDA directive to local social services districts:
For applicants facing non-utility heating emergencies (oil, kerosene, wood, propane) who have no alternative means of meeting their energy emergency, including HEAP, or when alternative housing is not available, the energy emergency must be met by a TA payment to secure a fuel delivery. (emphasis added).
Similar grants are available to utility customers who apply for aid but are over the income guidelines for HEAP and for monthly public assistance grants, although they are required to sign a repayment agreement as a condition of assistance, and are subject to a harsh administrative disqualification if they have not repaid prior assistance. See OTDA Must Relax Its Administrative Restriction on Utility Assistance Loans for Persons with Incomes Above the Public Assistance Level.

In recent years, many households with incomes above the federal limits for HEAP may have scraped by to pay the cost of heating with non-utility fuels. This year, with far higher costs of heating oil, these households simply may not make it without energy assistance through state and local .

Some counties may be reluctant to provide energy assistance, which, unlike HEAP, is not reimbursed fully by the federal government. Persons who apply to a local department of social services for assistance to meet a heating emergency are entitled to prompt action on their requests, written notice stating the factual and legal basis for any denial of aid, and notice of their right to a "fair hearing" review of a local agency denial by the State OTDA, which can be expedited in emergency circumstances.

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