Colder winter to drive local need for heating assistance
CAPITAL REGION This winter is forecast to be colder than last year’s unusually warm season and fuel oil prices have increased, making heating a home a challenge, especially for low-income people.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration is forecasting Capital Region residents will pay more to heat their homes with fuel oil or natural gas this coming winter.
The average household cost to heat with oil this winter is projected to increase by 19 percent to a level higher than any previous winter, according to the EIA (www.eia.gov).
Patrick Stella, a spokesman for National Grid, said even though natural gas prices are expected to drop by 3 percent during the winter of 2012-13, customers might have larger bills than last winter because of the weather.
The winter of 2011-12 was one of the warmest on record in the Capital Region, while weather experts are predicting a return to a more normal, much colder winter for 2012-13.
“If we have a typical winter, people may pay more,” Stella said.
Last winter natural gas consumers used well under the average amount, Stella said. This was on top of a large natural gas price decrease between 2010 and 2011.
With winter approaching, low-income people and senior citizens on fixed incomes are advised to seek help if they think they won’t be able to pay their fuel bills.
“We encourage customers to call us as early as they can,” Stella said. National Grid has a budget plan as well as a past balance payback plan to help its customers.
National Grid also works with the local United Ways, the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army to help people keep their homes heated. “The last thing we want to do is cut service to a customer,” Stella said.
A common way low-income individuals and senior citizens receive home heating help is through the federally funded HEAP (Home Energy Assistance Program).
People 59 or younger with a limited income must contact their county Department of Social Services to learn if they are eligible for a regular HEAP payment and an emergency benefit payment. People 60 and older contact their county Office for the Aging to see if they qualify for HEAP.
Other federal- and state-funded programs for economically challenged households include weatherization programs to make a home more energy efficient and outreach programs for the elderly.
In Schenectady County, for example, applications for such programs are taken at the county Department of Social Services, the Schenectady County Office of Senior and Long-term Care Services, and the Schenectady Community Action Program.
Commissioner Tina Potter of the Saratoga County Department of Social Services said HEAP applications can’t be made before Nov. 19. Last year this application start date was Nov. 16.
Potter said the state is predicting that New York’s HEAP allocation from the federal government will be $303 million as compared to $375 million for the winter of 2011-12.
Anthony Farmer, a spokesman for the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, said there are no drastic reductions expected in HEAP funding for the winter of 2012-13.
The maximum regular annual HEAP benefit is $650, which is the same as last winter. The maximum emergency HEAP benefit, which can be applied starting Jan. 2, 2013, is $600.
People who heat their homes with fuel oil, kerosene or propane and qualify for HEAP funding will have an average benefit of about $600 with an additional $50 added depending on the ages and numbers in the household.
Those people who heat with electricity or natural gas will see an average HEAP benefit of about $400 with an additional $50 added depending on ages and numbers in the household, Farmer said.
Farmer said people who think they might qualify for the HEAP benefits can go to the web site www.mybenefits.ny.gov and enter their household income and other details for a quick answer. People can also contact their county Department of Social Services to see if they qualify.
The American Red Cross of Northeastern New York often receives calls from people concerned about heating their homes.
“We do receive calls and refer the people to the right agency,” said Caroline Boardman, a Red Cross spokeswoman.
Boardman said a person seeking home heating help needs to apply for HEAP funding first. She said both National Grid and New York State Electric and Gas have special programs for economically challenged households.
In the case of NYSEG’s “Care and Share” program, the local Red Cross offices coordinate fuel deliveries, she said. For more detailed information about this program, people should contact their local NYSEG office, not the Red Cross.