Monday, May 17, 2010

OTDA Announces Second Regular HEAP Payments: $100 to Utilities, $200 to Vendors of Delivered Fuel

On May 11, 2010, the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) announced it will issue additional HEAP benefits to households who previously qualified for Regular HEAP during the 2009-2010 HEAP season. The supplemental payment is being made with federal LIHEAP contingency funds released by President Obama in January.

According to the OTDA press release,
eligible households will be able to receive an additional $200 if they heat their home with a deliverable fuel such as oil, kerosene or propane, or $100 if they heat with natural gas or electricity provided by their utility company.

Most households that have already received a HEAP benefit this winter will not need to apply for the second regular benefit, and will receive a notice later this month informing them that their additional benefit has been sent to their fuel vendor to be credited to their account. Those households to whom OTDA is unable to authorize a payment will receive a notice at that time with instructions on how to apply.
The additional benefits will help many New York households who have been unable to afford their energy costs this year without hardship. According to the OTDA press release, "[t]hrough the end of April, over 1.4 million HEAP benefits have been issued, a 13 percent increase over the same time last year. Last winter, New York issued more than 1.5 million HEAP benefits to low-income households, a record high."

The OTDA Press Release says
The additional assistance is being provided with $45 million in federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) contingency funds released to New York earlier this year by President Obama.
The $45 million of federal contingency funds were released on January 20, 2010. OTDA announced the release of additional funds nearly four months later, and only three days before the HEAP program closed to new applications on May 14, 2010. It appears that OTDA did not adopt a new regulation, HEAP Plan amendment, or sub-regulatory policy guidance through its ADM, INF, or GIS systems regarding the use of the additional funds.

There was no opportunity for public participation prior to the May 11 OTDA announcement of the belated allocation of the $45 million in additional federal funds released in January. The HEAP Block Grant Advisory Council (BGAC) has not been convened by OTDA to meet in the past two years. Appointments to the BGAC have not been made to replace former members who retired or who no longer work for HEAP program stakeholders. In his proposed 2010-11 budget, Governor Paterson proposes to eliminate the BGAC, which serves without compensation, and to eliminate HEAP funding for low-income weatherization, which by statute is allocated 15% of the federal HEAP funds for New York State. The legislature has not acted on the proposals.

It is not clear whether the additional payments to utilities and fuel vendors will provide tenants with any extra protection against shutoffs, beyond the direct payment to the vendors. Duties of utilities and other energy vendors upon their receipt of second Regular HEAP payments are not all contained in the State HEAP Plan. In privately negotiated vendor agreements with OTDA, energy services providers make arrangements with OTDA on matters such as continued provision of service in exchange for direct payment of regular or emergency HEAP benefits. A common provision is the assurance of 30 days continued service without shutoff after a HEAP payment is made.

In comments regarding the preparation of next year's HEAP Plan, PULP has pointed out the absence of adequate public participation in how the money is used, and the omission from the State HEAP Plan the duties of the utilities and other vendors which can significantly affect household eligibility and their protection. See PULP Expresses Concerns with State HEAP Program, Proposes Improvements,Transparency and Public Scrutiny of Utility Vendor Agreements, PULP Network, February 19, 2010.

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