More people than ever are getting help paying their heating bills.
The Home Energy Assistance Program received more than 1.2 million applications, from Nov. 2 to Jan. 15, according to Anthony Farmer.
Farmer, a spokesman for the state office of Temporary and Disability Assistance that runs the HEAP program, said the number of applications received is up 15 percent from the same point last year.
The Leader-Herald/Rodney Minor
The building that houses the Fulton?County Department of Social Services on Daisy Lane in?Johnstown is shown Thursday. County residents can apply for the Home Energy Assistance Program at the DSS offices.
There is no set date for the program to stop accepting applications, he said. Generally, it runs until there is no more money available or the cold weather goes away.
Some lawmakers were concerned the money could have run out a little early this year.
HEAP is a federally funded program that is administered by the state. It helps income-eligible households pay their heating bills.
The state received $475 million from the federal government for the program this winter, the same amount it received last year.
However, there is a contingency fund set aside for the program that can be released to the states by the president.
According to a news release from Gov. David Paterson's office, last year the state received more than $62 million of the $520 million available from the fund.
Earlier this month, President Barack Obama released $490 million from the fund, with more than $45 million slated for the state.
Paterson, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand all praised Obama for releasing the money.
"This is a welcome blast of warm air for hard pressed New York families struggling to pay their heating bills this winter. With a record number of families and seniors in need of heating assistance this winter, this emergency home heating aid is outstanding news," Schumer said in a news release.
According to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association, states assisted more than 8 million households last year, nearly a one-third increase over 2008, the release said. NEADA also anticipated a 20 percent increase in HEAP applications this year, the release said.
Gail Squillace, the HEAP coordinator for Montgomery County, said as of Dec. 31. the county had 5,600 households getting served with HEAP benefits.
She noted there are different avenues for people to request HEAP benefits. There were about 3,000 cases of households receiving food stamps and getting HEAP that way, with the other 2,600 separate HEAP cases.
"It keeps going up every year," she said, referring the the number of households eligible for HEAP.
Squillace said there still are funds available for people who are eligible to take part in the HEAP program.
Officials with the Fulton?County Department of Social Services could not be reached for comment on this story.
According to the HEAP Web site, people may apply for HEAP at their local social services office.
For more information about HEAP and eligibility requirements, visit the Web site www.otda.state.ny.us/main/heap
Craig Clark, consumer and financial literacy community educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Fulton and Montgomery counties, said there are simple ways for people to cut costs on their heating bills.
The first thing people can do is lower the thermostat while they are away from the house and sleeping, he said.
For every degree people turn the thermostat down, over an eight-hour period, it saved them 1 percent on their heating bill, he said.
"There is a misconception out there that it is not worth it to turn down the thermostat," he said. "Basically, if you are gone for anything more than two hours it is worthwile."
Clark said people should limit the use of - or even avoid using - electric space heaters. They are efficient in terms of their ability to provide heat, he said, but they are not cheap.
Clark also recommends people seal up as many drafts and air leaks in their home as possible.
"Older homes can have enough leaks that it is the equivalent of having a window open all winter long," he said.
Farmer said the Governor's Office worked with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to launch a Web site - www.heatsmartny.org - that offers tips on how people can lower their heating costs.
Among the many tips available at the Web site, it said during the heating season, people should keep the draperies and shades on the southfacing windows of their home open during the day to allow the sunlight to enter your home.