Assemblywoman Cook
Vivian E. Cook
Winter 2005

Dear Neighbors:

Seasons Greeting! It is my pleasure to present you with this final newsletter of 2005. I would like to take a moment to thank you for the support, letters and telephone calls I have received during this year. It is gratifying to know that we were able to help solve many of your problems by addressing your concerns. It is inspiring to know that through our assistance we have been helpful to those in need. This is very important to me as your representative.

While this legislative year proved successful in our efforts to develop new laws to better protect and safeguard New York State residents, much remains to be done in the upcoming New Year. I am pleased to report that the Transportation Bond Act, a five-year capital proposal to upgrade the state’s public transportation, bridges, and roads was approved by voters in November. I believe this bond will create new jobs, upgrade the infrastructure that so much of the economy relies on, and improve safety for our families. I have included in this newsletter information for our seniors who should have received letters and notices regarding Medicare’s new prescription drug coverage, which will help you pay for brand name and generic drugs. You may sign up for this voluntary program November 15, 2005 through May 15, 2006 to avoid paying a late enrollment penalty. Please take a moment to read this article so that you may determine what plan is best for you. This report also contains articles that will help you stay safe and healthy during this winter season. I am pleased to provide information on the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), Emergency Home Energy Assistance Program, Weatherization Assistance Program, and Emergency Energy Assistance Program. These programs may be available should you meet the necessary guidelines which may be based on funding availability. I have also provided information on the Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) a new rent increase exemption program, and holiday saftey tips. I encourage you to read this newsletter as it contains information that may be important to you.

In closing, as a longtime resident of Southeast Queens I am dedicated and committed to this community. Please know I will continue to work to ensure the 32nd Assembly District receive its fair share of funding and services. If you need any assistance, please contact me at (718) 322-3975. Best wishes for a safe, enjoyable holiday season and a healthy, prosperous New Year. I look forward to hearing from you in 2006.

ivory Sincerely,
Vivian E. Cook
Member of Assembly

How to Protect Your Family from Rising Energy Costs

In New York State, roughly 3 million customers use natural gas and another 1.5 million customers use oil to heat their homes. According to the testimony submitted to the Assembly’s Emergency and Consumer Protection committees, natural gas and oil bills will increase by 30 percent while electricity bills are expected to rise 10 to 20 percent this winter. It is always a good time to take action to conserve energy and save money.

What you can do to keep costs down

  • Have your heating system serviced by a reputable company annually
  • Replace filters in your heating system once a month during heating season
  • Install a programmable thermostat or turn down your thermostat if leaving home for more than two hours and when going to bed
  • Insulate attics, walls, ceilings, and floors
  • Open drapes/shades during the day and close them at night
  • Caulk windows, replace broken windows and weather-strip doors
  • Close fireplace damper when not in use
  • Remove window air conditioners during cold months or cover unit with plastic inside and out
  • Close off unused rooms
  • Avoid blocking wall or floor heating registers and clean them regularly
  • Seal and insulate ductwork
  • Reduce water heater temperature to 125 degrees
  • Insulate hot water heaters and pipes


Home Energy Assistance Program

The Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) is available through the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance for renters and homeowners to assist in meeting home energy heating costs. There are income eligibility levels, depending on the number of persons in the household, and other housing requirements to participate. If you are not currently enrolled in the HEAP program, you may still have the opportunity to apply for the Emergency Home Energy Assistance Program for basic emergency benefits that are available. Eligibility requirements are similar to HEAP. For more information about these programs please call 1-800-692-0557 or visit

Other offices that assist with HEAP benefits are:
  • NYS Office for the Aging, 1-800-342-9871
  • NYS Department of Family Assistance, visit
  • Public Utility Law Program (PULP), visit
Weatherization Assistance Program

The Division of Housing and Community Renewal manages the Weatherization Assistance Program, which helps income-eligible families reduce costs through energy efficiency measures. These measures include air sealing like weather stripping and caulking, insulation, heating system improvements or replacement, improvements in lighting efficiency and refrigerator replacements with Energy Star rated units. This program is based on income and household size with priority given to senior citizens, families with children and disabled persons. For more information visit or call 1-866-275-3427.

Emergency Energy Assistance

To avoid electric and gas shutoffs, contact the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) Senior Center at 1-800-342-3355 or visit

The American Red Cross manages the Care and Share Energy Fund for emergency energy assistance through their local Red Cross Chapter at (212)787-1000.


The Disability Rent Increase Exemption

The Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) is a new exemption program that offers an exemption from future rent increases to renters with disabilities if they meet all of the eligibility criteria. The program also provides an abatement to landlords - a credit they can apply to their property tax to compensate them for the rent increase they would have received from the tenant who is in the DRIE program.

The NYC Department of Finance will administer the program and will determine your eligibility. The criteria will be based on the following:

  • Do you rent in an eligible building?
  • Are you named on the lease?
  • Do you receive eligible state or federal disability-related financial assistance?
  • Do you meet the program’s income eligibility requirement?
  • Do you pay more than one-third of your household income in rent?
You must currently be receiving any one of the following forms of financial assistance:
  1. Federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
  2. Federal Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI),
  3. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs disability pension or compensation, or
  4. Medicaid-related disability assistance

Individual applicants may qualify for DRIE if their annual household income is less than or equal to $17,004. Couples may qualify if their annual household income is less than or equal to $24,372. Applicants who currently receive SSI automatically meet the income eligibility requirements for DRIE.

How to apply for DRIE?

You can print a DRIE application from the Department of Finance Web site at or you may call 311 to request an application by mail. You may also call my office at (718) 322-3972 for a form. You may apply for DRIE any time. Finance will process your application and notify you that you have been approved or denied within 30 days. If you have been approved, NYC Department of Finance will notify your landlord that you are exempt from any future rent increases. Should you need assistance completing the DRIE application or have questions about eligibility, please call 311, or contact the NYC Office for People with Disabilities at 212-341-9843; TTY: 212-788-2838.

A Few Simple Steps to Keep the Holiday Season Safe

The holidays bring family and friends together to enjoy good times. We can ensure that the season remains bright by putting safety first whether we’re decorating, cooking or toasting the New Year. Checking lights before decorating the tree, keeping an eye on what’s on the stove so the holiday dinner doesn’t go up in smoke and entertaining responsibly will help you and your family enjoy the festive spirit of the season. I hope you find the following suggestions for safety, cooking and entertaining useful in your holiday planning.

Christmas tree and candle safety

When buying a tree, look for a fresh one where you can see the resin on the trunk and the needles don’t break when you bend them. For better water absorption, cut off the bottom two inches of the trunk before putting it into a sturdy tree stand and fill with water. Keep your tree in good condition by:

  • placing the tree away from fireplaces, radiators and other heat sources to prevent the tree from drying out and creating a fire hazard; and
  • looking for the "Fire Resistant" label if you buy an artificial tree, so the tree will resist burning and extinguish quickly.

Lighted candles, including ones used in menorahs for Hanukkah and kinaras for Kwanzaa are also holiday favorites. Use them safely by:

  • extinguishing candles before leaving home or going to sleep;
  • making sure you use a sturdy, fire-safe menorah or kinara;
  • placing a menorah or kinara on a steady table and making sure nothing is too close to the candles’ flame;
  • checking candles often to make sure they haven’t burned down too low; and
  • keeping matches and lighters away from children.

Holiday decorations and lights

To keep the holidays bright, test lights, look for non-combustible tree trimmings, wear gloves when using spun glass decorations known as angel hair, and read directions when decorating with artificial snow sprays. Reduce hazards by:

  • limiting three standard-size sets of lights per single extension cord;
  • never using electric lights on a metallic tree - faulty lights will charge the tree and can electrocute a person touching a branch;
  • turning off all lights when you go to bed or leave the house.

Enjoying holiday meals

Cooking is part of holiday tradition and following some simple rules will keep family and guests coming back for seconds. Have a healthy table by:

  • thoroughly cooking poultry, eggs, and meats, including beef, pork and fish, to kill possible viruses or bacteria;
  • washing hands frequently and keeping raw poultry and eggs away from other foods to avoid cross-contamination;
  • using a food thermometer to tell when food has reached the proper internal temperature - cook ground beef to 160 degrees; poultry and pork to 170 degrees; and fish until the flesh is opaque and flakes easily with a fork;
  • cleaning all food surface areas that come in contact with raw meat or poultry with warm, soapy water or disinfectant;
  • keeping hot foods hot - at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and cold foods cold - 40 degrees or below; and
  • refrigerating leftovers immediately or tossing them.

It’s impossible to anticipate every situation, but generally, thinking ahead and acting responsibly will help keep family and friends safe and happy through the coming weeks. For holiday entertaining, remember to include non-alcoholic beverages on the menu; never serve alcohol to someone under the legal drinking age and never ask children to serve alcohol at parties; and make sure guests have designated drivers if they’re drinking.

We can reduce the number of holiday accidents if we keep these commonsense tips in mind.

photo Assemblymember Cook meets annually with hundreds of CUNY and SUNY students who come to Albany to lobby on behalf of educational programs. Many of the students wore buttons that read "Support TAP" and "Invest in Students." Assemblymember Cook agrees with this motto and will continue to support programs designed to help students achieve their educational goals. In photo with Assemblymember Cook are Leopoid Jackson and Kevin Hope, representing Pratt University. arrow arrow Assemblymember Vivian E. Cook met with Attorney General Eliot Spitzer to discuss issues of importance to the district she represents. photo

RX Simplifying Medicare’s New Prescription Drug Coverage

You may have started receiving letters and notices regarding Medicare prescription drug coverage, which will help you pay for brand name and generic drugs. The voluntary program takes effect January 1, 2006. It’s important to open, read and save all coverage notices to ensure you understand the benefits you are entitled to.

Unfortunately, the program created by the federal government is tremendously bureaucratic and confusing. To help you find your way through the maze of regulations, here is some basic information:

  • The new Medicare prescription drug program is voluntary. However, if you have both Medicaid and Medicare you must enroll in a Medicare prescription drug plan. If you do not pick a plan and enroll before December 31, 2005, you will be enrolled in one of the new drug plans automatically because your Medicaid drug benefit will end on that date.
  • If you have drug coverage (other than Medicaid) now, your current insurance company has to provide you with a notice indicating if your current prescription coverage is "as good as or better than" the standard Medicare plan. If it is, you do not have to consider joining a Medicare plan at this time. Otherwise, you should consider signing up for a Medicare drug plan between November 15, 2005 and May 15, 2006 to avoid paying a late enrollment penalty.
  • Seniors with EPIC can keep their EPIC coverage. For some, particularly those eligible for "extra help" for low income beneficiaries, enrolling in the Medicare drug program will mean more savings, EPIC will waive fees for low-income enrollees eligible for full "extra help" who join a Medicare plan.
  • The new Medicare drug program provides "extra help" to pay for drug costs for beneficiaries with lower incomes; contact your local social security office or area agency on aging. Those already in Medicaid or in one of the Medicare savings programs (QMB, SMB and Ql-1) will be eligible automatically for "extra help."
  • This new Medicare drug benefit will only be available through private plans. This means that in order to get prescription drugs covered through Medicare, New Yorkers must enroll in one of the plans offering the benefit in New York State. HMOs and other Medicare Advantage plans will also be offering the new prescription drug benefit. Assemblymember Cook urges you to talk with a trained individual who can help you get the answers and information you need. Organizations that can assist you include the Health Insurance Information, Counseling and Assistance Program (HIICAP), the EPIC program, the StateWide Senior Action Council’s Medicare-EPIC Project, and the Medicare Rights Center.

***Click here for printable view.***
Important phone numbers and Web sites
NYC Office for theAging 1-212-442-1000
HIICAP Hotline 1-800-333-4114
EPIC Helpline 1-800-332-3742
StateWide Helpline 1-800-333-4374
Medicare Rights 1-800-333-4114
Social Security Office 1-800-772-1213
Social Security
NYS Health Information


Assemblymember Cook has an open door policy. If you are in need of special assistance or would like to express a particular concern, please feel free to stop by or call her office.

LOB Room 331 * Albany, NY 12248 * (518) 455-4203
142-15 Rockaway Boulevard * Jamaica, NY 11436 * (718) 322-3975