by Jeff Paterson
National Fuel says that the cost of heating our homes may go down a little bit this year. That's good news. But the Government Accountability Office reports that a quarter of older Americans have exhausted their savings during the recession. Obviously, that's not good news.
The Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) is there to help folks who need help paying their home heating bills. This federally funded program has limited funding, so it helps people on a first-come, first-served basis beginning Nov. 16.
More than 1.4 million households across the state received HEAP assistance last year. HEAP doesn't mean you can stop paying your heating bill. For those who qualify, HEAP provides a one-time grant up to $300, which is applied directly to the heating bill. HEAP recipients must keep paying the balance of their heating bills.
There is also some emergency HEAP assistance available for low-income individuals facing a heating emergency. Those applications are accepted beginning Jan. 3, 2012.
HEAP is administered locally by county governments.
To learn more about HEAP in general, visit http://otda.ny.gov/programs/heap, or call the state HEAP hotline at 1-800-342-3009.
If you're an older adult in Niagara County and you want to find out if you qualify for HEAP, call the Niagara County Office for the Aging at 438-4020. If you're not an older adult but think you might qualify for HEAP based on your income, call the Niagara County Department of Social Services at 439-7744 or 278-8645.
Older adults and non-older adults in Erie County can inquire about HEAP at 858-7644.
Jeff Paterson is HANCI's communication director. Information is available at 285-8224 or www.hanci.com.