Afternoon read: It’s still cold, but there’s no more heat money coming

The idea of facing winter uncertain about what you’ll do about heat is terrifying. For many people, the federally-funded Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) means not having to make decisions like whether they should spend money on food or fuel.

When Julie Grant spoke with St. Lawrence County residents Linda Jobes and Leslie Howard (Jobes’ father) in autumn of 2011, Howard said something that’s likely familiar to many who receive assistance from HEAP: “I don’t have income enough to survive if I don’t get it.”

Donated firewood filled the gap when some St. Lawrence County residents were low on cash for heating fuel last winter. This cord of wood was given to Helping Hands of Potsdam as part of its ongoing firewood drive. Photo: Nora Flaherty

That year, the federal government had dramatically reduced funding for the program. At that time, I reported on a St. Lawrence County organization (Helping Hands of Potsdam) holding an ongoing firewood drive. Efforts like that one were helpful, and still are, but the changes to HEAP have been a hardship for many.

And as the Glens Falls Post-Star reports today, they’re still a hardship. This year, the initial allocation for HEAP was $650 (that’s $50 more than last winter, which was exceptionally warm). But, the article reports, HEAP recipients in past winters have seen more additional allocations than they have this year; and (as always, it seems) prices on many home heating fuels are rising.

The article says with “six weeks remaining in the home heating season” (really? Only six weeks?), many in the North Country are running out of money to pay for heating. That “home heating season” apparently begins Nov. 1 and ends April 1 (again, dare we dream?); but HEAP funding will shut down on March 15 (it also began late this year, on Nov. 19.) Two other federal programs to ease heating costs have also been curtailed in the last year.

Of those running short on heating funds, some are scrambling to find other help — through other programs or through volunteer organizations like Helping Hands of Potsdam.

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15 Responses to “Afternoon read: It’s still cold, but there’s no more heat money coming”

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  1. dave says:

    Ugh, I can’t even imagine how horrible it must be to have to worry about whether or not you can heat your home! Deciding between fuel and food, how destitute a situation does one have to be in!?

    Of course, my mind tends to gravitate toward practical solutions… if I were in such a situation, and I truly could not find money elsewhere in my personal budget (cable TV, other discretionary items, etc) then I’d be tempted to simply move somewhere where heating costs were not so prohibitive for me.

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  2. Mervel says:

    But if you don’t have $500 for heat you certainly can’t afford to move.

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  3. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Options are pretty limited for our working poor and elderly Dave. We put in a pellet stove at my oldest daughters this year. It’s worked out pretty good, especially since fuel oil is, what?, $4.00 a gallon or more? I believe you have to pay sales and excise taxes on fuel oil too. Seems criminal to me, “You don’t want to freeze? Then pay St Andrew his tithe peasant!!! It just seems wrong to me.

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  4. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    Rancid touched on an idea that I think we should consider here in the North Country. That is rather than continue to pay for extremely expensive fuel oil or propane, we should somehow create a heat assistance program that retrofits homes with bio-fuel heating systems and assists program recipients with the cost of purchasing the fuel to feed them.

    Something along the lines of a weatherization program for home heating with similar income guidelines as far as eligibility. But now we purchase and install a multi fuel or strictly wood pellet stoves. Ideally one manufactured here in the North Country and we supply the recipient with wood, grass, corn, etc. pellets also manufactured here in the North Country.

    In other words we leverage the federal funds to not only assist low income households with heating, but we also leverage those same federal funds and piggy back them with other state gov’t incentives and private funds to create a bio fuels industry here in the North Country. Essentially value adding to the bio energy and manufacturing sector we have here in the North Country rather than simply paying the oil man.

    To add to my point, I own two pellet stoves and a fuel oil boiler. All three, I’m proud to say, were made here in America. Unfortunately, not in upstate, NY. Seems a shame that the approximately 10K I’ve spent on these systems could not have circulated in our local manufacturing sector.

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  5. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    One thing I forgot to mention. The approximate 4 tons of wood pellets I use to heat my home every winter are purchased annually from a small business in Lowville, NY (where I bought one of my pellet stoves). The owner of this business purchases multiple tractor trailer loads of these pellets every fall from a local wood pellet manufacturer in Lafargeville, NY. They are know as “Empire” brand pellets. I am but one of many customers of these two businesses. It seems to me we could build upon this already existing bio-fuels industry if we redirected some of the HEAP funds to purchasing the heating products we already produce and distribute locally.

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  6. Paul says:

    “It seems to me we could build upon this already existing bio-fuels industry if we redirected some of the HEAP funds to purchasing the heating products we already produce and distribute locally.”

    I agree. Spending this money on ridiculously priced fuel oil is really too bad. But I guess you gotta do a retrofit first.

    In the Adirondacks they should allow lower income individuals to have permits to cut some dead and down timber on forest preserve land. That seems like a bit of a waste when people are suffering.

    But this is also not just a low income issue. Everybody is making choices thanks to the cost of heating oil. I am. I would rather take some of my money and spend it on a ski weekend in Lake Placid rather than a hundred gallons of oil. That hurts the folks that are working in the lift line at Whiteface (and the like) trying to make a living up there.

    Like Clapton a lot of my heat also comes from a guy I buy wood from the next town over. So it is a complicated thing. I am considering geothermal which will not make my wood guy too happy.

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  7. Leo says:

    “Of course, my mind tends to gravitate toward practical solutions… if I were in such a situation, and I truly could not find money elsewhere in my personal budget (cable TV, other discretionary items, etc) then I’d be tempted to simply move somewhere where heating costs were not so prohibitive for me.”

    If someone can’t afford to heat their home, simply pulling up stake and moving is hardly a practical solution.

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  8. dave says:

    “If someone can’t afford to heat their home, simply pulling up stake and moving is hardly a practical solution.”

    I’m not sure I understand why.

    I’ve done this several times in my life. Not specifically over the cost of heating, but over the cost of rent or general living expenses. When I lived in an area where I couldn’t make it work, for whatever reason, I moved.

    I just assumed that is what most people did. I guess not.

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  9. tootightmike says:

    If HEAP brought wood to those in need six or nine months in advance, they’d only need half as much. Most of what’s delivered is fresh from the woods, somewhat wet, and only half as efficient as it should be. The cost of oil is ridiculous these days, especially compared to natural gas, but too often, the folks in need are living out in some god-forsaken, fire-trap old home, where gas isn’t an option.
    Here in the Village, folks whine about high taxes, but we’ll make it up in fuel savings this year.

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  10. tootightmike says:

    Paul, Folks with chainsaws are seldom cold. Folks without chainsaws wouldn’t know what to do with one, or can’t do the work required, or don’t have a truck, etc. They’d end up needing medical attention too.
    I think Dave was onto something; If what you’re doing isn’t working, then you have to do something else. That may mean moving to a place where you can get a job, or moving to a warmer place, or moving in with cousin Bill, but you can’t remain in an unworkable situation and make it someone else’s problem.

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  11. mervel says:

    I think though that is what we would do, move look for a new opportunity etc.

    However we have substantial multi-generational poverty in the North Country. To move you need at least first months rent, gas money, a car and a way to live for at least a couple of months when you get to your new destination and that would be the absolute minimum. Many people in the North Country have none of those things plus not having any skills to be able to find work when they do move. If you are stuck without regular income the north country and NYS are not a bad place as far as services go compared to other states. If you move for example you would probably lose your heat benefits, lose your medicaid and have to re-apply for food stamps etc in the new place. Many states in fact do not let people do that for a period of time when they first move to a state.

    This is not a knock on these families, but it is simply their situation.

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  12. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Kind of melding Clapton, Pauls and some other posts-

    I am entirely in favor of opening State lands to “gleaning” downed and dead wood. Yes, it would have to be regulated, but it could be done and supervised by Forest Rangers or trained volunteers. And yes, HEAP or community or church based groups could certainly help assist with obtaining wood early in the year so it can season. It just requires some planning and forethought. And yes, a locally based biofuel system could certainly be established. It would be great to see our local gov’ts actually become proactive in helping people line up solid fuel sources and the equipment to make use of them. It needn’t be a high dollar project either. People just need information and in some cases, like the people without the truck and saw, a bit of assistance in directing them to those who may be able to network with them and help.

    Dave, when you’re young and single or just you and your SO, it’s pretty easy to up root. For someone with a family, relatives they may be caring for or that otherwise depend on them, who maybe aren’t the type to take the substantial risk of moving or for the sick or elderly, it’s not such an easy option. I’ve moved about a bit in my younger days, but uprooting a family is a whole nuther thing.

    I’m currently considering uprooting myself. Not because of fuel, we heat with wood off the farm, but because of taxes and regulation and ridiculous laws. I don’t want to do it at all but life is becoming unlivable here. For example, who could possibly object to the poor gleaning fuel wood from dead and downed trees off public lands? In this state a LOT of people would object! That’s the type of issue that makes you wonder whats next? Taxes on breathing?

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  13. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Just remember, while we’re sitting here talking about using our readily available solid fuel options, there are people in living through the aftermath of Sandy that still have no heat, no power, who are being ticketed for code violations due to downed trees and debris in their yards. That’s not happening in far off Louisiana or California. That’s happening in NY and NJ. We need to rethink some things, ASAP!

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  14. Mervel says:

    New York State government is pretty mean if you get on the wrong side of regulations and the Leviathan.

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  15. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Yeah, so anyway, does anyone see any agencies looking into this and getting things rolling?

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