2005-12-07 / Seniors

Lafayette Says His Bill Will Relieve High Heating Costs

Seeking to provide some relief to senior citizens on fixed incomes who are facing a drastic predicament as fuel costs zoom out of sight this winter, Assemblymember Ivan Lafayette will shortly file a bill to alleviate high energy costs.

Lafayette (D–Jackson Heights), one of the highest ranking Democrats from Queens in the Assembly, said his bill will change a program called the circuit breaker, which provides tax relief for real property owners and tenants with low incomes, primarily senior citizens, to make the program available to more families.

Lafayette says his bill will do this by increasing the rent limit, which controls who is eligible for the program, from $450 a month to $700 a month. His bill will also increase the income limits, which determine eligibility, from $17,000 a year to $25,000 a year.

“The structure is already in place to assist people in this time of need. We just need to adjust the eligibility requirements,” Lafayette explained. “The time is now to increase the eligibility requirements and allow for more working families and senior citizens to qualify for this credit.”

Under Lafayette’s bill, the money to pay for the changes in eligibility he proposes will come from gasoline taxes, which the state already receives. He explained: “This bill dedicates 50 percent of the excise tax that the state currently receives from the sale of gasoline above $2 a gallon, and directs these revenues towards expanding the real property circuit breaker tax credit and the low income home energy assistance program—a program that assists eligible households in meeting their home energy needs.”

Lafayette said homeowners and landlords are facing a 30 percent increase in the price of natural gas, although some sources say it will be closer to 50 percent. The cost of home heating oil and electricity is also headed upward, he said. “We must do what we can to protect our neighbors from feeling the full effects of these exorbitant home heating costs,” he said.

HOUSE INCREASES HEAP FUNDS: Speaking of home heating assistance for low-income families and seniors, the House of Representatives voted recently to increase the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LI HEAP) by $1 billion. Funds from the federal program go to the states who then distribute the monies. New York state gets more funding from this source than does any other state.

The House increase in funding this program must still be voted on by the U.S. Senate and then signed by President George W. Bush before the deal is finalized.

In other provisions of the bill passed by the house, seniors and low-income families didn’t fare too well. The House voted to cut Medicaid, the healthcare program for low-income people, including many seniors, by $11.4 billion over five years. New York state would lose $1.6 billion from this reduction.

The effect of the proposed federal cut in Medicaid funds would be that premiums and co-payments for low-income individuals on Medicaid would increase and many families would not use the program as much, advocates for affordable health care predict.

The approved bill would also make it harder for some seniors to get assistance for nursing home care. New York state is already moving in this direction.

FURTHER BAD NEWS FOR MEDICAID: New York is the only state where clinics, community groups and HMOs are authorized to help people fill out applications for Medicaid. In other states, people are left to manage on their own or go to government welfare offices to get assistance. Doing it New York state’s way has added about a million people to the Medicaid rolls. Now there’s a chance the NYS program might be scrapped. Here’s why: New York state must get a waiver from the federal government to operate the assisted enrollment program. At this point, the Pataki gubernatorial administration hasn’t decided whether it wants to continue with assisted enrollment.

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