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Economic Crunch and Cold Weather Leave Many in Need of Heat

December 17, 2009

NEW YORK - It's another frigid day across the state, and with 10 percent of New Yorkers out of work, that means many families are having trouble finding money to keep the heat on. New York has the second-highest heating oil costs in the nation, according to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

The senator says requests for home heating help were up by about 40 percent across the state last year. New Yorkers received $320 million in heating help in 2008, and she predicts even more will need assistance this winter.

"The number of people who need to access these support programs has increased dramatically. Because our economy is so terrible, and our unemployment rate is so high, many more people can't meet basic needs like heating their home."

Gillibrand helped to secure $5.1 billion for the Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps seniors and low-income New Yorkers pay their heating bills.

Gillibrand says while there are plenty of families out there who need help this winter, many people still don't know help is available.

"Last year, about half of the people who were eligible didn't even apply for it. So we need to get the word out that there's a lot of money for middle- and low-income families, and also for our seniors, to help pay their heating bills."

Going without heat for even a day can very dangerous for older New Yorkers, according to David McNally, manager of government affairs for AARP-NY. He says it's especially difficult right now for folks on fixed incomes.

"They may be not spending any more than younger people, but the percentage of income available that they're spending is much higher. And, as you might expect, older people tend to live in older homes, which are less energy efficient."

Gillibrand is co-sponsoring a measure to provide tax credits and low-interest loans to families who weatherize their homes.

More information about home heating help is available at www.createthegood.org and www.gillibrand.senate.gov.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY