What is HEAP?
The Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) is a funding program from the federal and state government that assists eligible low-income households with their heating and cooling costs, energy crisis assistance, weatherization, and energy-related home repairs. In New York, most of the money is allocated to heating costs in the winter. It also funds some cooling costs, but we do not believe the program adequately covers the cooling needs of urban environments given the increasing frequency and severity of hot days caused by climate change. Currently, HEAP provides eligible households, including apartments, with air conditioning units or fans, up to a value of $800. However, it does not provide support for covering the extra energy cost of those air conditioners. And New Yorkers living paycheck to paycheck, the energy bill is often the second highest expense after rent.
There are also special programs for landlords to weatherize buildings in which at least 60 percent of the units are designated low-income. However, this weatherization does not include installations or upgrades to cooling systems that are more energy efficient and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. The application for HEAP cooling benefits for New York start May 1st and are on a first-come, first-serve basis until August 31st – or until the budget has been exhausted.
Who is Eligible?
A household is eligible if it meets the income requirements and if one of the household members has a heat exacerbated illness. WE ACT for Environmental Justice believes eligibility should be expanded, as many people above this income level struggle to pay their energy bills (see table to the right). A person who participates or has family members who participate in certain other benefit programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or certain needs-tested Veterans benefits may be automatically eligible (click here to learn more and see if you are eligible; New York City residents can learn more here).
WE ACT is working to improve HEAP to promote more cooling assistance in response to the ongoing and accelerating climate crisis. We want to see more money for energy-efficient, whole-building air conditioning, and for any household with young children or a member over 65 years old to be automatically included as having a heat-sensitive condition. In the meantime, we will continue to raise awareness of the existing benefits and will work with the community to identify and address any barriers that may exist in the application process.