Upstate Families Face Winter Heating Crisis

By Dave Renzi, candidate for State Senate

As the nights becomes a little cooler in Northern and Central New York, homeowners are thinking about dialing up the thermostat — but worrying about what that extra bit of warmth may do to their family’s budget.

Soaring fuel costs mean that Upstate homeowners will pay $1 billion more to heat their homes this winter — about $1000 more per family, on average.

New York State currently offers assistance to homeowners and renters to help with home heating costs, and Gov. Paterson recently announced an increase in the basic grant amount, as well as additional aid to help homeowners save on energy by making their homes more fuel-efficient. I applaud these changes and encourage homeowners to apply through their county social services agency.

But Albany can do so much more. Like Albany’s formulas for property tax relief and school aid, the current state heating aid program is unfair to Upstate homeowners. Right now, the maximum heating aid grant is the same, whether you live on the South Shore of Long Island or the shore of Lake Ontario. Obviously, the winters are longer and colder in our region, and our families need additional relief.

That’s why I have called for a new formula that directs more aid to regions with colder winters. I also have proposed an energy assistance tax rebate of up to $1000 to help families cope with rising fuel costs and to make needed improvements to their homes — like insulation, high-efficiency furnaces and thermal windows — that will save energy and lower their heating bills for years to come.

My plan is a perfect complement to the Governor’s timely and necessary action. And it makes more sense than my opponent’s complicated scheme, which he says will deliver more aid to our local families.

In fact, that plan — which was drafted by downstate legislators — aims more of its help toward homeowners on Long Island and in New York City.

Unlike my more responsible pay-as-you-go solution, my opponent would borrow $1 billion at a time when the state already faces multibillion dollar budget gaps and staggering outstanding debt.

The legislation he supports only covers homes that use heating oil, meaning 2/3 of homeowners in Northern and Central New York won’t qualify for aid. And while I have called on Washington to deliver more heating aid, my opponent’s plan is unrealistic in its estimate of that additional relief.

Unfortunately, this extreme plan threatens to derail efforts to get any real, additional relief this winter. Albany needs to act on a common sense plan that will help the most homeowners — but especially those most in need.