The Home Energy Assistance Program or HEAP as it is commonly known will open about 2 weeks later than it normally does in Buffalo this winter. The official date that Erie County residents can apply for HEAP funds (announced by the Erie County Department of Social Services) will be Wednesday November 16, 2011. HEAP funding is limited and the fact that it was pushed back two weeks later than in previous years will mean longer lines at Erie County HEAP offices this year. This problem will affect other counties across New York State as they too will be opening their HEAP offices on the same day.
HEAP was created in the early 1980′s as a federally funded energy assistance program for lower income citizens. Many states are allotted a specific amount of dollars from a federal pool of funding and it is up to their governments to disperse the money as they choose for low income energy assistance. The manifestation of this funding in the State of New York is HEAP. Last year the maximum regular HEAP benefit an eligible household could receive was $500 for homes that heat with oil, kerosene or propane, and $300 for all others. Last winter, more than 1.4 million households in New York State received HEAP benefits. Every year it is well known that the funding pool for this program is limited and works on a first come first served basis. This creates a mad dash by county residents to get their HEAP grant before the money runs out.
It shouldn’t have to be this way. Pushing the opening date back 2 weeks this winter makes a proven solution to energy efficiency, which is the expansion and improvement of low income weatherization programs in Erie County, gravely important. Weatherization is the process where a home is retrofitted (new windows, doors, roof work, insulation, etc.), keeping more heat inside the home, therefore lowering energy use aka gas bills. Much of the housing stock in the city of Buffalo is very old dating back to the horse and buggy days (the late 1800′s), and low income weatherization would help in combating the area’s cold winters. Compounded with the knowledge that hundreds of people usually stand outside the local Erie County HEAP offices on the first few days within its opening will be the 2 week delay. Those of you who have ever had to stand in that line, out in the cold especially the first week HEAP opens, know that 2 weeks is like an eternity. One can bet their HEAP grant that the line outside the Buffalo office will be much bigger and longer this winter, going down the block, stretching around the corner. The National Fuel Accountability Coalition (NFAC) and our allies have been working diligently to help right this wrong. National Fuel Gas can bet the $50 million they received from Erie County HEAP money last year, that we’ll be making noise (about solutions for improving weatherization in Erie County) in the 1st week of November 2011, the time HEAP should be open this winter.