Heating Help for Needy New Yorkers

By Greg Cergol
|  Tuesday, Jan 5, 2010  |  Updated 7:15 PM EDT
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Heating Help for Needy New Yorkers

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This winter has been very cold.

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They sat side by side in a cramped Hempstead office -- people from across Long Island, who share a similar fear: that their homes will lose heat during these coldest of days.

"I am a mother of four and my husband's out of work and I am out of work; so, it's a real concern," said a Freeport mom who didn't want to reveal her name out of embarrassment. 

Holding cut-off notices from both her gas and electric companies, the woman had come to the office of Nassau County's Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) in search of money to help her family survive. 

And she was not alone.

HEAP's program director Liz McDermott says her hot line has received three hundred calls a day from people seeking help to fill their oil tanks or pay their gas bills. 

"We've had a number of calls from frustrated people on the verge of tears," said McDermott.

Using federal funds, HEAP can provide a one time payment of up to $700 for oil and up to $500 for gas for individuals and families who meet income qualifications.

But the frigid temperatures have made those in need even more frantic.

Veronica Hamilton, 66,  of Roosevelt waited hours for help, knowing she only has a half tank of oil left and little money to buy more.

"When that runs out, they have to help me," the disabled Hamilton said.

"That's why I am here."

Not surprisingly, more calls for help are coming this year from middle class families who never needed assistance before but have hit hard times in the difficult economy, according to McDermott.

"We try our best not to leave anyone in the cold," McDermott added, before calling another potential client from that crowded waiting room. 

The NY state HEAP hot line is 1-800-342-3009.

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