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HEAP application process begins today

For thousands of New York residents this is a significant day because it's the start of applications for the HEAP program, which provides extra cash to pay heating bills. The Erie County Social Services Department expects perhaps hundreds of people to start lining up outside offices at 478 Main Street. The department says there are fewer people who need to show up in person because there are applications by phone and over the web.

Depending on several criteria, the program can pay up to $650 toward winter heating bills.

Energy Programs Director Craig Provenzo says for those who have had their utilities turned off or who are about to lose service, showing up in person is a good idea. Provenzo says those already receiving food stamps and welfare don't have to come in.

"They can call us and ask if their benefit has been accepted or received. Both the temporary assistance and food stamp folks that would have been done automatically if they were receiving temporary assistance or food stamps back in late August/early September," Provenzo said.

Provenzo says the amount of money coming for HEAP help has been shrinking for years as the program has been rolled into a block grant. Last year, there were $39 million available. In 2008 to 2009, there were $60 million.

Provenzo says applicants need to have all of their paperwork ready and there will be assistance in a number of languages.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.