July 2, 2008: Heat or eat will be choice for many

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To The Editor:
Gassing up our car or buying food is a very painful and stressful experience these days.  Heating our home this winter with fuel oil getting close to $5 will be even more painful. Unfortunately, many of our Senior Citizens, on fixed incomes, will be financially and emotionally devastated by fuel oil at $5 a gallon - many will become physically ill as a result of reduced heat and food.
Currently there is a Federal program to provide some assistance, it is called the “Home Energy Assistance Program” (HEAP), administered by Ulster County.  Last year’s grant to Ulster County was about $3 million. It is anticipated that this amount will be increased. Even if the amount is doubled by the Feds to $6 million resources will not be great enough to meet the people’s basic fuel needs. The need for financial assistance this heating season will, in my judgment, increase exponentially.
I believe it will be necessary for the state and county to step in and provide additional state and county resources for HEAP.  The politicians will tell you that this will require additional taxes.  I say no to additional taxes. Additional taxes would be counter productive to our struggling economy.   I suggest a very different means of providing the additional  funding for HEAP the assistance that will be so vitally needed by our Senior Citizens.
The budgets of NYS and Ulster County have a number of programs that are “nice”   but not vital to the daily function of government.  I suggest that these “nice” programs be temporarily curtailed or reduced during this energy crisis and that the money saved be immediately  transferred to an augmented HEAP program.
Assuredly, there will be wailing and moaning by special interest groups that benefit from these “nice” programs. Unfortunately, difficult problems will require a politically difficult solution.  This is an opportunity for our political leaders to show leadership and to face up to the extremely serious nature of the problem facing our Senior Citizens in a responsible manner.  There are only a few months left before the heating season begins. Quick action by our political leaders is vital.
While some will disagree with my suggested solution, I do not believe that any can deny that a very serious problem exists.  During the coming election cycle it will be interesting to hear what the candidates propose regarding this critical problem.  I would like to learn of any other solutions to this critical problem.
It would be unconscionable to require our senior citizens to have to choose between “Eat or Heat” this winter.

William R. West,
Former Chairman of the Ulster County Legislature