Madison County proposes local heating assistance program

Supervisor John Salka (R,C,I -- Sullivan) said Colgate University had a team of volunteers to help people complete their income tax forms.

"Why not HEAP applications?" Salka asked.

Fitzgerald said his department will have three people working on processing HEAP benefits this year. He said nearly 6,000 benefits were issued last season.

"There is a serious situation waiting for us around the corner," Salka said. "It's almost August. It's going to start getting chilly in another 90 days."

Fitzgerald said his department is being faced with skyrocketing energy costs.

"We keep hearing, 'The sky is falling, the sky is falling,' on a daily basis, but this coming year's really scaring me," Fitzgerald told the committee. "There are choices we can make, but when it comes to heating your house, that's not a choice you can make."

According to Fitzgerald, Stoneleigh Housing's weatherization program worked on 75 houses last year. He said another 150 low-income homeowners are on the waiting list.

"If we keep throwing money after money after money, somehow we've got to structure that so we start talking efficiency," Fitzgerald said. "This is a $300,000-a-year grant that served 75 households, and yet there are 150 families on the list."

Fitzgerald said he fears people are going to heat with alternative sources, cooking stove, kerosene heaters, and put themselves in harm's way.

Last week, Gov. David A. Paterson's office announced it will increase HEAP funding by 8 percent, a serious shortfall from the actual rise in home energy costs over the past 12 months.

The state also increased the eligibility levels to the maximum permitted under law. This year, a family of four can earn as much as $45,312 and be eligible for a HEAP benefit, up from $43,308 last winter, and the state has waived the requirement that people apply for HEAP in person in cases where that may present a hardship.

HEAP also helps low-income New Yorkers weatherize their homes.

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