It can’t be easy to rely on government assistance to keep your home heated during the winter.
But it must be even harder when that assistance runs out, or isn’t there in the first place.
The federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program was established in 1981 as a supplement to help people pay their heating bills. But as Opportunities for Otsego Director Dan Maskin recently observed, “It has become the main source of paying for home heating for many people.”
The problem is that the money just doesn’t go far enough. High fuel costs and long winters mean that many area residents have to come up with other solutions for staying warm.
“Generally (the funding) is $600 for 150 gallons of fuel oil, and that does not always last the year,” explained OFO energy services coordinator Rhonda Barringer. “We hear stories of people getting a five-gallon gas can and filling it with diesel fuel or kerosene to supplement their heat.”
And as federal budgets get tighter, the funds for the LIHEAP program (administered locally as HEAP) dry up as well. The same family with the same income may find that their benefit has dwindled from one year to the next, while the cost of fuel continues to go up. In 2009, the program served 1.2 million New York households at a cost of $538.2 million. For 2014, only $303 million has been allocated.
Is this system completely immune to abuse? Probably not. While we believe local agencies take pains to ensure that the limited funds available go to those who are eligible, it is still possible that there are people “gaming the system” to receive this money.
We also believe that there are plenty of people in our communities who are truly in need of this assistance. But for many, the help just isn’t enough.