Washington County Social Services will run federal program on its own

B y Lee Tugas

New York state may have plucked furnace repair funds from a low-income, federal heating program, but the Washington County Department of Social Services will put it back.

Roughly $36,000 has been earmarked by the county Social Services department for those who qualify for the federal Home Energy Assistance Program. That is $36,000 the federal government, through New York state, used to provide itself.

Social Services Commissioner Tammy DeLorme said the $36,000 would be channeled through the county’s temporary assistance programs.

Although HEAP is a federal program, it is administered by the New York state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. The state suspended HEAP’s furnace repair and replacement program for 2013-14. But that action can only be understood in the context of the massive federal cuts to HEAP since 2009.

During the past four years, the federal government has slashed funding for HEAP. State officials expect this year to get $329 million in HEAP funds, a $74 million decrease from last year, according to Anthony Farmer, assistant director of public information for the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

Farmer spoke last Wednesday at a meeting of the Washington County Human Services Committee. DeLorme also spoke at that meeting, making the announcement that the county would fill in the $36,000 gap in furnace repair and replacement funds.

Some Washington County Supervisors worried about the county taking on a state-federal program, but no action was taken against the plan. That means when the regular HEAP program starts on Nov. 18, with roughly $69,000 slotted for Washington County, eligible families will qualify for regular HEAP funds, as well as the furnace repair and replacement monies supplied by Washington County, DeLorme said.

The state Office of Temporary Disability and Assistance website estimates that a qualifying family of four should have a maximum gross monthly income of $4,182. But according to a chart provided by DeLorme, income eligibility is more complicated than that, with monthly income eligibility increasing with the number of persons in each household.

For example, the monthly income for a household of one would be $1,245, while the monthly income for a household of 11, at the top of the scale, would be as high as $6,461. DeLorme said there were other factors, such as what type of fuel or fuel combination is used, that determines cash benefit amounts.

Since eligibility is a complicated matter, DeLorme urged current and/or potential HEAP clients to email or mail their applications, or to bring it in personally.

“A brand new case will have to supply proofs of hardship,” DeLorme said.

Hardship is acute. Although she did not have exact figures, DeLorme estimated that 25 percent of the Granville population (pegged at more than 6,000) and 35 percent of the Whitehall population (more than 4,000) benefited in one way or another from the federal Home Energy Assistance Program.

The Social Services Commissioner did supply a chart that breaks down the number of households, not individuals, currently served by HEAP. In Granville proper, 533 households are served; 35 households in Middle Granville and 24 in North Granville. In Hampton, 43 households are served, and 406 households are served in Whitehall.

Although DeLorme shied away from saying outright that Washington County was doing Washington, D.C and Albany’s work for them, she did say that Washington County would “provide a safety net for the vulnerable citizens” of the county.

“We knew as far back as summer about the cuts,” she added.

For persons with computers, information about HEAP can be obtained from the following sites: otda.ny.gov/programs/heap for general information, and www.mybenefits.ny.gov  to determine eligibility.

Or Washington County residents can call the HEAP hotline at 1-800-342-3009 or Washington County Social Services at 746-2300.

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