Hundreds of low-income north country families almost missed out on having their furnaces repaired or replaced this winter through the federal Home Energy Assistance Program, because of an initial lack of funding for that component.
But local departments of social services received notification last week that the 2013-14 state HEAP allocation was more than anticipated, so the furnace repair and replacement program will continue. New York was set to receive $303.2 million for HEAP, but ended up receiving $316 million. Karen A. Dupree, head social welfare examiner at the St. Lawrence County Department of Social Services, said she learned on a recent conference call that upwards of $4 million will be reserved for the furnace repair and replacement component.
Instead of getting help that didnt cost (people) anything, they could have taken a lien out on their property if they came through temporary assistance, because thats a different pot of money, Mrs. Dupree said.
Throughout the 2012-13 HEAP season, there were a total of 56 furnace repairs and 37 furnace replacements in St. Lawrence County, 15 furnace replacements or repairs in Lewis County and 40 repairs or replacements in Jefferson County.
Now, DSS staff members are preparing for the furnace repair and replacement programs launch Tuesday. People can apply for regular HEAP through their local DSS agency, or online through the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, as of Nov. 18. Lewis County Social Services Commissioner Stacy L. Alvord said regular HEAP typically begins Nov. 1.
As soon as they get that application in, the sooner theyll get that benefit, said James G. Schell, Jefferson County Department of Social Services deputy commissioner.
HEAP is a one-time-only benefit for a households primary heat source. Benefits can range from $400 to $650, according to Caroline J. Virkler, Lewis County Department of Social Services principal social welfare examiner.
She said the state tracks pending applications weekly to make sure theres money available.
Regular HEAP is expected to run through Feb. 2, unless state funds dry up sooner. Emergency HEAP opens Jan. 2, and may last until mid-March. Mrs. Virkler said emergency HEAP benefits are for low-income families who are in jeopardy of having their heat supply dry up.
For example, if someone has a quarter-tank of fuel or less or less than a 10-day supply of wood, or if their utilities are threatened with termination, they may be eligible for emergency funds.
Some families may qualify for both regular and emergency HEAP.
Last season, HEAP benefits totaled $1.9 million in Lewis County, $7.7 million in St. Lawrence County and $6 million in Jefferson County, according to DSS officials.
All local departments of social services reported they expect to be inundated with requests for heating assistance.
Its a short-term program so everyone comes in at once seeking benefits, Mrs. Virkler said.
For more information on HEAP, people can call their respective social service agencies in Jefferson County at 782-9030, Lewis County at 376-5400 and St. Lawrence County at 379-2111.
When a households HEAP benefit runs out, it can go to various community agencies for additional assistance.
One of those agencies is the Community Action Planning Council of Jefferson County, 518 Davidson St. Executive Director Melinda M. Gault said CAPC helps with emergency utility or heating source payments through an annual allocation of federal Emergency Food and Shelter Program funds.
Those funds are expected to be released in early 2014, right around the time when some HEAP benefits end.
Ms. Gault said federal weatherization funds also have decreased, having gone from $524,674 for the 2012-13 season to $476,289 for the 2013-14 season.
We cant meet the need thats out there by a long shot, she said.
At least 200 people remain on CAPCs waiting list for home weatherization needs.
BY THE NUMBERS
According to Department of Social Services officials, last season HEAP benefits totalled:
■ $1.9 million in Lewis County
■ $7.7 million in St. Lawrence County
■ $6 million in Jefferson County