Eye on fuel aid: Demand for energy assistance likely to be up this winter

T he early onset of seasonably cool temperatures is expected to result in a greater demand for home heating assistance, officials with the Washington County Department of Social Services said.

“My guess is the demand is going to be greater this year because it’s been cold already,” said Paula Reid, director of the home energy assistance program (HEAP) in the county.

Fortunately county residents looking for some help heating their homes this winter can expect a little more help than last year.

HEAP-eligible households can receive up to $600 this year according to Reid.

That’s an increase of $150 over last year’s maximum allotment.

“We offer Tier 1 and Tier 2 add-ons for people who are at the poverty line or below, or households that have someone who is 60 or older or someone under age 6,” Reid said.

Each add-on is worth $25 and can push the total grant as high as $650.

HEAP is a federally funded program that helps low-income and elderly residents keep their homes warm during the cold months of winter.

The program provides small grants that can be used to pay for home heating sources, be that fuel, wood, coal, pellets, natural gas or electricity.

HEAP eligibility is based on income and household size. Levels for eligibility remain largely unchanged from last year. Anyone who receives SNAP benefits — food stamps – is eligible for HEAP benefits, as are households that meet monthly income standards.

Single resident households whose monthly income is at or below $2,138 are eligible for benefits. Those eligibility levels jump to $4,111 for a household of four.

According to the Campaign for Home Energy Assistance nearly 1.5 million households in New York received HEAP benefits last year. In 2010 that number was 1.3 million people.

And the rate of Washington County residents who rely on HEAP mirrors or exceeds the rate seen in the rest of the state.

Reid estimates anywhere from 2,400 to 2,500 county residents received regular HEAP benefits last year and that doesn’t include people who were already on temporary assistance or food stamps beneficiaries.

“We serve quite a few people in a short season,” Reid said.

Applications for the regular HEAP season, which runs from Nov. 19 through March 15, are now being accepted at the county Department of Social Services office in Fort Edward or online at the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance website.

Applications for the emergency benefits season opens on Jan. 2.

Reid said applicants who are not eligible but still need assistance with their home heating costs may be referred to the Salvation Army or can apply for other forms of temporary assistance with the social services office.

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