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Gillibrand, Walsh call for more federal utility subsidies

Payne Horning
Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh, right, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand say Congress needs to allocate more resources for federal low-income energy subsidies as the pandemic has stretched resources thin for many families.

More than 1.5 million New Yorkers relied on the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) before the pandemic and that number has grown substantially in the last year.

During a visit to Syracuse this week, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said the LIHEAP eligibility rules haven't changed but the financial circumstances of so many Americans have. Not only are more people out of work and therefore finding it harder to make ends meet, but many of them are spending more than ever on utilities as kids are going to school and people going to work remotely now.

"Because of COVID, one in five homes nationwide is at least 60 days behind in their payments for their heating bills and that's serious because if you don't have resources to pay for your heating, that's a question of life or death in a place like Syracuse," Gillibrand said. 

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh, who has worked with Gillibrand before to stave off mass evictions in the middle of the pandemic, said this is the next battlefront. 

"It is a critical need for the people of the City of Syracuse," Walsh said. "Most people are spending a lot more time in their homes. While they're there, we need to make sure that they are comfortable and safe."

Congress allocated $900 million for the energy subsidies in December, however, Gillibrand said without more funding the program will run out of money. She's urging her colleagues to include $10 million more in the stimulus bill that is currently working its way through Congress.