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As winter nears, federal aid for home heating caught in political red tape

New York State

Heating your home can be pricey, especially if you’re on a limited income. Many low-income people depend on LIHEAP to stay warm, but those dollars are uncertain this winter.

“I know a lot of people who use their ovens. I know that they use a lot of space heaters and we all know that that’s a huge fire hazard," said Angela Ferrick, head of the Gouverneur Neighborhood Center.

Many of the folks she works with can't afford to keep buying propane throughout the winter, so they turn to the neighborhood center to get help signing up for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a federal assistance program to pay for people to heat their homes.

But the status of those applications for this winter are up in the air right now.

"It's crazy," said Ferrick. "We are going the whole time that we are open, faxing applications for people.”

Normally, the new federal budget starts on Oct. 1, but that didn’t happen. The government is operating under a “continuing resolution” until mid-November, so only some of the year’s budget has been appropriated.

The Trump Administration hasn’t announced yet how much money will be released for LIHEAP.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services distributes LIHEAP, so Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has written them a letter, urging them to release the money immediately. Gillibrand spoke to reporters by phone yesterday.

"I think it’s because President Trump doesn’t care about poor families and so he wants to eliminate it entirely from his budget," said Gillibrand.

"Congress, on a bipartisan basis, has to stand up to the president and demand the money get released," she wrote. "Unfortunately, it’s just a lack of empathy, a lack of concern and I don’t think it’s more than that.”

Gillibrand submitted the letter along with Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).

President Trump has proposed eliminating LIHEAP funding in his 2020 federal budget. He did that last year, too, but Congress didn’t let that happen.

New York received about $372 million dollars through LIHEAP. That’s the most of any other state.