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Schumer calls for Department of Health to release $35 million in heating aid

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CANTON - During what he called “one of the worst cold spells in decades,” U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., is calling on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to release $35 million in federal heating funds to residents throughout New York.

If the money is released, an additional 31,000 residents in the north country are expected to receive $13 million through the Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides regular or emergency benefits to low-income households that spend a high portion on their income on heating expenses.

The money is being withheld by the department in anticipation of possible cold snaps later in the year, but Sen. Schumer said that is not necessary because he expects Congress to provide more funding for the HEAP program in this year’s budget.

“Now’s the time to add to the program, not subtract,” Sen. Schumer said during a conference call with reporters.

He said he expects that the Senate Appropriations Committee will be able to add “a couple hundred million” dollars to the overall program, resulting in tens of millions in extra funding to New York state in particular.

“We’re not the coldest state, that’s North Dakota, and we don’t have the greatest number of people, that’s California, but in New York we have the greatest number of people in the cold,” Sen. Schumer said.

The Department of Health and Human Services has allocated $351 million to New York for the winter, but thus far has released only $316 million of those funds.

Paying out the remainder of the funds will help New York residents, especially senior citizens, who are struggling to cope with below-average temperatures this year.

“New Yorkers should not be forced to choose between putting food on the table, paying for prescription drugs or paying for heating,” Sen. Schumer said.

From September 2012 through October 2013, more than 1.5 million households in New York received HEAP funding in the amount of $306,250,583, according to Sen. Schumer’s office.

This winter, 63,137 north country households are expected to receive $29,928,194 in HEAP funding, the senator’s office said.

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