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Schumer to push for additional $1 billion for home heating assistance programs

Sen. Chuck Schumer speaks in Troy Monday Sept. 19, 2022
Ashley Hupfl
Sen. Chuck Schumer speaks in Troy Monday Sept. 19, 2022

As the Northeast braces for an expensive winter heating season, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is pushing for an additional $1 billion for the Home Energy Assistance Program in upcoming temporary budget talks.

While customers are seeing prices fall at the gas pump, fuel costs have risen dramatically in the past year due to several different factors, including the pandemic, inflation and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. National Grid predicts home heating costs will rise 39 percent this winter, an increase of about $50 more per month over last year.

In front of two long-vacant downtown Troy buildings on River Street now being demolished and reconstructed into energy-efficient apartments, Schumer said Monday it will hurt customers already struggling to survive.

“We all know the pandemic still is wreaking even though it's declined dramatically in the number of illnesses, deaths - thank God – but it's still wreaking havoc on our supply chains across the globe and it's impacting every industry. The shutdown to the global economy or the advance of the global economy is not at the pace that we need. The waves of supply and demand fluctuations translate into costs and inflation. Home heating is one of those victims.”

The New York Democrat says the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program is already out of funding. To help families heat their homes this winter, Schumer is launching a push to add $1 billion to the federal Home Energy Assistance Program in the upcoming temporary budget bill, or Continuing Resolution, which needs to be passed by the end of the month to avoid a government shutdown.

Schumer says he will also push to add an additional $4 billion to the program in December to the full federal funding bill.

“Last year in Albany County, 19,000-plus households received assistance and another 1,000 received emergency assistance. Here in Rensselaer County, 11,300 received home assistance and another 2,000 emergency assistance. In Saratoga County, 14,000 received energy assistance and another 3,000 emergency. And in Schenectady County, 12,000 receives home energy assistance, and 848 emergency. OK? So, we need to pass this.”

Troy residents Beverly Hickman and Cathy Baker spoke at the press conference to explain how their heating costs have increased. Baker said she’s had to choose between paying her home heating bill or paying her Medicaid bills to get her prescriptions.

“They say they're willing to work with people of low-income, but the second that you can't meet their strict guidelines, they’ll shut you off. And as (Hickman) said, a landlord has the right to throw you out. And we badly need this program, not just in Troy, but in all in New York State, because National Grid is really just gouging everybody and somebody needs to put a cap on it. I brought my bills and my bills have actually tripled since 2020.”

Spokesperson Patrick Stella responded that National Grid works with government agencies and programs like HEAP. He added in a statement, “National Grid does not profit from the increase in commodity costs that we have forecast for this coming winter heating season. National Grid purchases the commodity of natural gas and electricity on behalf of our customers and passes that cost on without markup.”

Troy Mayor Patrick Madden, a Democrat, says the funding to rebuild the two Taylor Apartment buildings on River Street would not have been possible without American Rescue Plan funds and he hopes further federal funding will help ease the cost of utility prices for residents.

“For too many among us, tough decisions lie ahead. Heat or food? Heat or prescriptions? That’s an immoral calculus and a shameful reality in our country with all its wealth and promise.”

It was also Schumer’s first public appearance after Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico Sunday afternoon. Schumer says ahead of the storm’s landfall, President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico. The declaration covers the costs of medical care; disaster operations; and the purchase of food, water, ice and medicine.

“I've let FEMA know, I want those funds to flow to Puerto Rico ASAP, as quickly as possible. People are suffering, it's an untenable situation (and) lives are at stake. When there's no electricity, no way to get food, no way to get medicine, we need to move very quickly.”

New York and Puerto Rico are both in FEMA’s Region 2.

Copyright 2022 WAMC Northeast Public Radio. To see more, visit WAMC Northeast Public Radio.

Ashley Hupfl