Federal Government Must Act Now On Energy Cost Relief

November 2, 2005

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D/WFP-Tompkins/Cortland) criticized the U.S. Senate’s second vote against a $3.1 billion increase in emergency funding for the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP). Lifton is urging the federal government to immediately increase income eligibility requirements and expand funding for HEAP now before winter arrives.

“It is already snowing in parts of New York State and in other areas of the country. At this rate, winter will be over by the time Congress decides to actually provide assistance to families struggling to afford skyrocketing heating bills,” Lifton said.

To bring attention to this matter, Assemblywoman Lifton contacted New York State Senators, Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer, to verbalize her concern about the lack of HEAP funding and the effect it would have on New York State residents. In an August 2005 letter, Lifton urged the federal government to adjust the program to fit the current economic needs of this country by easing the eligibility requirements and expanding HEAP’s funding. Both Clinton and Schumer voted for increasing HEAP’s funding each time the proposal was before the Senate this month.

“This winter is going to be devastating for Americans who will be forced to make serious financial sacrifices just to keep warm. There is no excuse for the federal government to sit back and fail to help the people who will suffer this winter. This is an urgent problem crying out for national leadership – and so far our national leadership has let us down,” Lifton said.

Lifton noted that because of high energy costs this winter, many low- and fixed-income families will have to go without meals or forgo important medical care to afford heat. According to a study conducted by the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association (NEADA), this trend has already started. Of the low-income families surveyed, 25 percent have sacrificed medical care, failed to make rent or a mortgage payment – and 22 percent went without food for a day.

Meanwhile, HEAP program funding has not kept pace with the rapidly increasing cost of energy prices, according to an April 2005 issue brief submitted by NEADA. The report estimates that since the winter of 2001-02, home heating costs have increased 98 percent for home heating oil ($953 to $1,261), 55 percent for propane ($888 to $1377) and 58 percent for natural gas ($602 to $954). During this same period, HEAP funding – including emergency funds – increased by only 21 percent ($1.8 billion to $2.2 billion).

In 2002-03, 762 vulnerable households in Cortland County were served by HEAP and 750 in Tompkins County. Lifton stated that the number of households in need of HEAP funding this winter will rise dramatically as energy prices soar.

“The federal government has to do more to ensure that all citizens can afford to heat their homes. The situation is especially serious for the elderly, the disabled and low-income families who will be forced to sacrifice their health and well-being to stay warm. Unless the federal government decides to act quickly – that will be the reality this winter,” Lifton said.