October 12, 2011 —
At a meeting of the Health and Family Services Committee at the government center on October 6, commissioner Chris Cunningham warned lawmakers that it may be an especially cold winter for low-wage residents in Sullivan County.
That’s because the federal government is in the process of significantly reducing the funds available to New York and all states for the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), which provides money for heating oil and other fuels to keep houses warm in the winter.
According to various published reports, the amount available for New York this season will be $250 million, down from $534 million last year.
Cunningham also said other changes will make it more difficult for qualifying residents to stay warm. One change is the length of the HEAP season. In past years, residents could apply for assistance on the first business day of November. This year, they can’t apply until November 16. Further, the program will cease operations on March 15; last year, the assistance was available through May 13.
Additionally, the emergency part of the HEAP program will not begin until January 3, unlike last year when it started at the beginning of November. Residents needing emergency electricity to run appliances and lights, and who get a notice from their provider saying the power is going to be shut off, will not be able to apply for the emergency program until the new year. Last year, there was also a second emergency program in place; that has been eliminated this year.
For more information go to www.co.sullivan.ny.us/Default.aspx?TabId= 
3163 or call 845/807-0142.
The millionaire’s tax
After the discussion about HEAP, Priscilla Basset, president of the Senior Legislative Action Committee (SLAC), asked the legislature to send a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo urging him not to let the so-called millionaire’s tax expire at the end of the year as it is set to do now.
She explained that it wasn’t really limited to millionaires because it reached single people who earn $200,000 after expenses, such as a mortgage, are deducted and couples who similarly earn $300,000. “Still,” she said, “It won’t hit most of the people in this room.”
Bassett said the “tax on upper incomes could be used to reduce many of the proposed cuts in state spending, such as the billion dollar cut to poor school districts.”
Lawmaker David Sager moved that the committee comply with the request from SLAC and send the letter to Cuomo, though he expressed the view that it was very unlikely that the governor would be swayed by the letter. The other lawmakers on the committee agreed that it was not likely to have much impact, but they unanimously voted in favor of the letter, which Sager said he would compose.