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Remedies sought for predicted heating fuel crisis

QUEENSBURY With fall approaching, dismay over exceptionally high heating fuel prices has risen while temperatures are dropping. Oil industry experts have predicted that heating fuel could easily top $5 per gallon this winter, and government officials have expressed concerns over whether people particularly the elderly and physically incapacitated will be able to keep their houses warm. State Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward (R - Willsboro) said that rural upstate New Yorkers, will be hit hard by increased heating costs. Up north, the winters are particularly cold, and the high price of home heating fuel is going to devastate residents and businesses, she said. In response to the urgency of heating expenses, state Assembly Republicans have proposed legislation that expands the availability of financial help to buy heating fuel. Included in the legislation is a $200 senior citizen tax rebate, and an income tax credit for those who spend more than 5 percent of their adjusted gross income on their home heating costs. The proposed plan also provides individuals a tax credit of 25 percent, or up to $2,500, to offset the cost of energy-efficient improvements to a residence, and exempts the state sales tax on alternative fuels used for heating homes. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) also expressed dismay this week over the looming heating-fuel crisis, predicting that Hudson Valley residents alone will spend up to $490 million more on heating their homes this winter than in 2007. He is fighting to boost financial aid to help pay residential heating fuel costs for households with modest income, he said. We cannot leave residents out in the cold this winter and I will fight tooth and nail to make sure they have the assistance they need. Schumer is promoting legislation that will add $5 billion in federal financial heating-fuel aid, with about $24 million earmarked for New York State. Warren-Hamilton County Office for the Aging Director Candace Kelly said Thursday that the upcoming winter was going to crimp a lot of household budgets, with serious consequences. Its not good, Kelly said. The county is trying to organize all the necessary departments early this year we have to be prepared. Kelly said that although the state legislature has taken steps to make public funding more accessible to a greater range of the residents, much comprehensive aid needs to be provided. She said that the assistance for heating fuel has been boosted just a few dollars per qualifying household from a minimum of $130 for the entire season up from $120 and the maximum aid for the year is now $585, up from $540. Public funding used to amount to a full (heating fuel) tank plus, she said. Now its often less than half a tank. Kelly said that the biggest concern is over those who are not currently enrolled in Office for the Aging programs. Individuals who receive food assistance are guaranteed regular contact with the agencies volunteer staff, and it is likely that a frigid home would be detected promptly she said. People have to be looking out for their neighbors this year, she said. Essex County has formed a task force to line up necessary funds for homeowners, especially those who are just above the states existing minimum income threshold, explained Essex County Office for the Aging Director Patty Bashaw. In concert with other municipal agencies, the Essex County OFA is compiling information for a fact sheet which will be distributed to county officials, she said. Bashaw said that the majority of towns in Essex County are currently seeking funds for citizens in need of assistance. For example, the Town of Westport is holding a special information session on this specific issue next week, she said. In concert with public assistance, financially-stressed individuals need to take further action to keep themselves warm this winter, she said. The Essex County OFA has undertaken a comprehensive educational program which promotes saving up money and taking energy conservation measures. We are telling people to stockpile food now, Bashaw said. Hopefully this will allow them to be able to fill their fuel tanks during the winter. Bashaw said everyone needs to work together and should watch out for the welfare of their neighbors. The community needs to be proactive with this, she said. We have to stay diligent and make sure these folks are consistently checked on. Schumer said the financial struggles have already begun. He said a survey earlier this summer showed that millions of elderly households this year across the U.S. are facing a severe hardship paying overdue bills from last winters heating season and many are now having their utilities shut off due to nonpayment. The survey estimated that at least 1.2 million households nationally have been disconnected from electric and natural gas service this summer.

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