For borough residents who want heating assistance from the city during the winter, the application can sometimes seem more like a test.
In preparation for the coming season, this month lawmakers have been getting the word out about the city Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides funds for those who cannot afford to heat their houses, but one city politician said small mistakes in the paperwork can leave homeowners out in the cold.
“We’ve found there have been delays with these applications,” said City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone). “If these things aren’t done exactly right, they sit on a desk somewhere.”
Halloran was speaking Monday at the KCS Flushing Senior Center, at 42-15 166th St. to not only get the word out about the program, but also to offer his office’s help with the paperwork.
“If an elected doesn’t follow up from time to time, [the applications] can slip through the cracks,” he said.
Halloran’s office received calls last winter after constituents applied for the assistance but heard nothing back — which is a problem since getting heat is an immediate need, he said.
In response, he told seniors at the center to check with his office or to just fill out the application with his staff to make sure it is done correctly.
The assistance program provides three types of funds for low-income residents, according to Director Sandra Sanchez.
Through one program, residents can apply once a season for a lump sum benefit, based on their income and type of heat they use and ranging from $1 to more than $450, often paid directly to the utility company.
Another program is for homeowners who have received a notice that their heat will be shut off. In that case, the program can send out an emergency fund to keep the heat flowing.
The program also provides funds to fix or upgrade boilers or other heating equipment.
Last year, the program assisted more than 850,000 households in the five boroughs, according to Sanchez, and dished out $52 million in benefit money.
The federal government funds the program in its entirety, but the cash is administered by regional offices, like the one in New York City.
But those funds were in danger of not being there at all this year, according to state Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), who spoke at the event with Halloran and Sanchez.
“The federal government was planning to eviscerate the program,” he said. “It was saved, but it’s one of those programs that are year-to-year.”
Lancman said the program provides a valuable service to households that are struggling in the tough economy, yet some people are ashamed to take advantage of it.
“There are certain cultural stigmas from receiving resources from the government,” he said. “But they are not taking a handout.”
The program is funded by taxpayer money, which is why any tax-paying citizen should not balk at the opportunity to get extra help, he said.
“They’ve paid for this program, and they are allowed to access it,” he said. “I don’t want people sitting in the cold.”
Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) held similar events earlier in the month.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.
©2011 Community News Group
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