Sen. Charles Schumer called on the federal government to release $35 million in home heating aid immediately, so thousands of New Yorkers could get assistance with their energy bills in the frigid weather.
"This heating assistance is desperately needed," he said on a conference call with reporters. "Millions of seniors and other families are going to struggle to keep warm this winter."
Schumer said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services typically holds back some money in case of February or March cold snaps. But this year, he said, frigid temperatures meant the need for heating assistance arrived sooner. He said Congress would allocate additional money.
Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the department, said the program is awaiting final appropriations from Congress before it determines the amount of money available for distribution.
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program served almost 74,796 households in Nassau and Suffolk counties last winter.
Schumer said he would fight to reverse cuts made to the federally funded program since 2009.
New York's appropriation has been slashed almost 35 percent since then, to $351 million this winter from $538 million in 2009.
The average grant award has gone from $417 to $308, as demand for the program and heating costs have increased, he wrote in a letter to the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee.
Schumer blamed the cut on federal budget negotiations, and said he had fought against the cut.