Additional HEAP Benefit Passes Assembly

Democrats in the state Assembly want to make additional HEAP payments available — but Democrats in the state Senate thus far don’t agree.

Assembly members approved A.4956 this week in a 96-49 vote with Assemblymen Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, and Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda, voting against the bill.

The legislation would create a new state program that to provide an additional HEAP benefit if a household has been threatened with having their heat shut off as long as the resident can show they receive a HEAP benefit that is insufficient to pay the bill, the person is without heating fuel or has a heating fuel supply to last less than seven days, has had their heat turned off, has their utility bill more than 60 days behind or has a balance of more than $300. Counties would be able to authorize one or more payments to a household each year depending on the funding available.

“Anyone eligible to get a regular HEAP benefit that is either insufficient or unavailable, then the new program would kick in,” said Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, D-Valley Stream.

Existing HEAP benefits are available to homeowners and renters and provides between $400 and $900, according to the Chautauqua County website. The program is typically open from November through mid-March, with payments depending on household income and how a home is heated. There is also an Emergency HEAP program typically open from early January through mid-March for those who have their heat scheduled to be shut off, have less than 10 days of fuel in a household’s fuel tank or has a heat-related utility scheduled to be shut off.

Goodell said he couldn’t support the legislation because it encourages bad financial habits. He said it doesn’t make financial sense for some HEAP-eligible households to try to pay their heating bills on time because doing so would make then ineligible for benefits.

“So we are spending millions and millions of taxpayer dollars, paying people not to pay on time,” Goodell said. And this bill takes it one step further by saying instead of getting one emergency HEAP assistance payment you can get as many as the local district will allow you to get. Maybe we should think about rethinking our Social Services program to encourage responsible financial behavior rather than to reward it and, sadly this bill takes a bad situation and makes it worse.”

Solages disagreed with Goodell, saying the state should do more to help those who are struggling to pay their heating bills.

“I’m voting in the affirmative and I encourage my colleagues to vote in the affirmative,” Solages said. “Nearly 1.3 million New Yorkers right now are in arrears. And I take offense to anyone who may think that a lion’s share of them just want to benefit off the system. People are one paycheck away from disaster. With the COVID pandemic, with the cost of inflation, the affordability crisis, now is the time for the state to respond. With this piece of legislation we are just ensuring that in New York state we are being a safety net and we are trying to be proactive.”

While the Assembly has passed the bill, a companion bill hasn’t moved from the state Senate Social Services Committee since it was introduced in February. The state legislative session is expected to end Friday.


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