U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, in Elmont on Friday, vowed to add $1 billion more to a federal heating assistance program as part of the upcoming temporary budget bill due at the end of the month.
Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the additional funds would bring the federal Home Energy Assistance Program, or HEAP, to a total of $5 billion for the 2023 fiscal year. The deadline to pass the temporary budget bill is Sept. 30.
"There's a new worry with every touch of the thermostat this winter. Many seniors and working families are going to have to reach deeper into their pockets," Schumer said. "We all know the price of heating oil and natural gas is going to go up — it's going to go up significantly. Given that, it's my job to add some fuel to the federal pot of funds that helps tens of thousands of Long Islanders pay for their winter heating."
Schumer announced the push for increased funding in front of the home of John Przykuta, 63, of Elmont, a disabled tow-truck driver on a fixed income.
Przykuta, who was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, said he is "very worried" about how he will heat his home this winter.
The federal program also assists with electric bills due to more air-conditioning usage in warmer states, Schumer said.
Newsday reported this month that homeowners who use natural gas should expect to see a 29% increase in their heating bills this winter, according to National Grid, as volatility in the natural gas market continues to impact prices, particularly in the Northeast.
There are about 611,000 National Grid customers on Long Island, and the average household could see its bill jump $299 this winter to $1,320, excluding taxes, Newsday reported.
A volatile energy sector strained by the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change could be the cause of higher fuel prices, Schumer said.
Assemb. Michaelle C. Solages (D-Elmont) said although many of the reasons for the increased cost "are global, we are feeling the pinch locally." She thanked Schumer, saying "every dollar we have in heat will benefit Long Island families and will benefit New York State."
More than 80,000 Long Island households benefited from $20 million in HEAP funding last winter.
In Nassau, about 18,450 households rely regularly on HEAP benefits, including about 1,240 getting emergency assistance. In Suffolk, 67,500 households receive the assistance, with 8,270 getting the emergency benefit.
"Literally, there are families who are already making decisions about whether to put gas in their car, whether to buy food, whether to buy medication, and this winter it will be whether to buy home heating oil or pay those bills," said Jeff Reynolds, president and CEO of Family & Children's Association, a Garden City based not-for-profit serving about 30,000 people annually.
He said the residual impact of the pandemic coupled with inflation has disproportionately affected seniors and working families.