Friday, October 03, 2008

Bush Signs LIHEAP Funding Increase; Public Input Needed on How it Will be Allocated in New York

$120 Million Added to New York HEAP Program
President Bush earlier this year proposed a steep funding cut for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (“LIHEAP”) funding in the budget he sent to Congress. See Bush Proposes LIHEAP Cuts in 2009. In light of the increase in home energy costs, however, Congress had other ideas, and last week legislation was passed to increase funding for LIHEAP to $5.1 Billion, the level that was authorized in 2005 but never before fully appropriated. See House Bill Would Increase LIHEAP Funds: Will New York Use them to Reform its HEAP Program?

On September 30th, President Bush signed into law HR 2638, the Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Appropriations Act, which provides funding for the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, and Defense as well as funding authority to keep the rest of the government operating through March 6, 2009. Of the $5.1 billion for LIHEAP, $4.509 billion flows through the regular block grant program and $590 million will be released at the direction of the President as emergency contingency funds. The legislation allows states to increase eligibility requirements up to 150 percent of poverty or 75 percent of state median income (the current eligibility ceiling is 150 percent of poverty or 60 percent of state median income).

Of the $5.1 billion, New York State is slated to receive $476,376,332. New York received a total of $357.8M in federal LIHEAP funding for the 2007-08 HEAP season, including "formula" funding and discretionary funding releases. New York's share of the $1.98 billion in federal formula funds was $248 million. In planning only for a federal allocation of $1.7 billion, OTDA's Plan for 2008-09 only assumed receipt of approximately $212 million, or $145.8 million less than received last year.

Public Participation and Comment Needed on Plan for Allocating New HEAP Funds
The federal LIHEAP statute, 42 U.S.C. § 8624(c)(2), requires public participation and an opportunity to comment on any substantial revision of the state HEAP plan. The infusion of increased funds this year -- well over $100 million -- necessarily will lead to a substantial revision of the plan originally submitted, which was designed to distribute a much lower total level of benefits. The recently approved New York State HEAP Plan for 2008-09 includes some language addressing what will happen if additional funding is made available during the heating season. The Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (“OTDA”) may:
  • Issue additional regular and/or emergency benefits;
  • increase the regular and/or emergency benefit amounts;
  • Provide a supplemental benefit to any household receiving a regular HEAP benefit during the most recent/current program year; and/or
  • Implement additional outreach and referral activities.
Unfortunately, there is no indication how the vague options listed in the plan would be prioritized.
  • How much more money, for example, will be poured into regular or emergency HEAPbenefits?
  • Will benefit amounts be changed?
  • Will the HEAP program remain open longer?
  • Will the state adopt the new, higher income eligibility levels, which could make households of four making up to $56,600/year eligible?
These decisions should not be made in the dark, as happened last year, without an opportunity for any public input and participation. See PULP Comments on HEAP Plan for 2008 - 09.

The New YorkHEAP program opens on November 3rd.
Lou Manuta

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