WASHINGTON — With New York reeling from frigid temperatures brought by a polar vortex, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer wants the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to immediately release $35 million to the state.
LIHEAP helps an estimated 485,000 low-income families in the state pay their monthly utility bills, including 166,297 in western New York, 112,960 in the Hudson Valley, 94,480 in the Rochester-Finger Lakes region and 75,159 in the Southern Tier.
New York received 90 percent of its annual funding — $316 million — in November, according to Schumer.
If the state receives the additional money, it's not clear if there will be other funds available until October.
The federal government has been operating on a stopgap budget since mid-October, following a 16-day partial government shutdown. The stopgap measure expires Jan. 15.
House and Senate appropriators are negotiating a budget for the remainder of fiscal 2014 that's expected to be released within the next few days.
Among the top negotiators is New York Rep. Nita Lowey, ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee and a longstanding supporter of LIHEAP. With the cold snap reaching most of the nation, lawmakers from various regions may be willing to carve out extra money for the program.
Overall federal funding for LIHEAP has declined from $4.7 billion in fiscal 2011 to $3.25 billion in fiscal 2013, which ended Sept. 30. According to Schumer's office, New York's share of LIHEAP money has dropped by $170.6 million over the last two years.
Schumer said he's written to Senate appropriators urging them to increase funding for the program.
"Winters in New York can be especially brutal, and heating costs have steadily risen over the past five years,'' he said. "Now is the time to add the program, not subtract, and I will make sure my colleagues are aware of all the benefits the LIHEAP program has to offer."