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A Tenant's Guide to Getting and Keeping Gas and Electricity Service

TenantNet note: This booklet was published by Brooklyn Legal Services in 1995. Some information contained may be out-of-date, particularly listed telephone numbers. As far as we know, there have been no updates to this publication. While much of the information may still be valid, the reader should exercise caution.

XI. How To Get Emergency Help From The Human Resources Administration

The Human Resources Administration Income Support Programs ("HRA") may be able to provide you with financial assistance to pay utility bills. Grants are available to both recipients and non-recipients of public assistance ("PA"). HRA also provides grants to low-income tenants who need help paying for heat. For eligibility requirements and additional information call HRA at (718) 291-1900 or visit an HRA Income Support Center. A list of HRA Income Support Centers may be found in this booklet at page 42.

A. Emergency grants to prevent termination of utilities

1. For recipients of public assistance

If you receive public assistance, HRA will pay up to four months of utility arrears to prevent termination of your utility service. However, HRA will not pay for arrears that have built up more than ten months before your application for assistance at HRA. The utility company is required to continue or restore service if they receive payment from HRA even if all the arrears are not paid. To be eligible for a grant, you must have a notice of termination from the utility company. You may also be required to attempt to negotiate a deferred payment agreement. See pages 12-14 of this booklet, which describe deferred payment agreements.

You will almost always be required to agree to have the grant "recouped" (paid back to HRA) from your future PA budget. This means that your future PA money will be reduced by a small amount (no more than 10% of your total budget) each month until the grant is paid back. SSI recipients are not subject to recoupment and their grants need not be paid back.

HRA workers require recoupment because they usually assume that mismanagement of the PA budget was the cause of the utility arrears. If you believe that you have not mismanaged your PA money (for example, a medical emergency or other crisis caused your utility arrears), you may refuse to sign the recoupment agreement and you should still be eligible for a grant. However, this may cause HRA to deny your grant request. If HRA denies your grant solely because you refuse to agree to be recouped, you should ask to speak with a supervisor at HRA and request a "fair hearing" on the denial. Scheduling a fair hearing will usually mean that you will not get a decision on your grant request for several weeks.

In addition to requiring recoupment, HRA will usually require you to sign a "restriction" agreement that will cause future utility bills to be paid directly by HRA. The utility company will send future utility bills directly to HRA, and you will receive a copy of the bill. The PA money you receive will be reduced accordingly. Restriction agreements may continue for as long as you receive PA.

If you do not want to have your future budget restricted in this way, HRA will guarantee to the utility that they will pay your future utility bills for six months if you fail to pay the bills. If HRA is forced to pay because you fall into arrears again, the utility bills will be automatically deducted from your PA budget, and your PA budget will be automatically restricted in the future.

2. For applicants for ongoing public assistance

You can also get an emergency grant to prevent termination of your utility services if you are applying for ongoing public assistance. You must demonstrate to HRA that you are the "customer of record" primarily responsible for the utility bills. A bill or termination notice from the utility company naming you may be used to show this. A bill in the name of a relative who resides with and is responsible for you (for example, a parent not applying for PA) may also be used.

In addition, you must (1) have exhausted all other options, such as attempting to negotiate a deferred payment agreement with the utility company; (2) have no money to pay the utility bills; and (3) have no other housing available.

You may also be requested to demonstrate that you are the "tenant of record" in the apartment. A current lease may be used to show this. If you do not have a written lease agreement, a letter from the landlord naming you as the tenant or mail addressed to you at your apartment may be used as a substitute.

If you are found eligible HRA will issue, directly to the utility company, a payment no greater than the bill for the four months immediately preceding the month of your application for on-going PA. The utility company is required to stop the termination when they receive this payment.

If you are eligible for ongoing PA, you may ask HRA to restrict your future PA budget and to pay your utility bills directly to the utility company.

3. For households not eligible for public assistance

Even if you are not eligible for ongoing public assistance, you may still be eligible for an emergency grant from HRA to pay your utility arrears. As a condition of receiving the utility grant, however, you must agree to repay HRA within one year of the date HRA pays the utility arrears. In heat-related situations, you should always try to use HEAP and emergency HEAP before obtaining HRA utility grants and signing repayment agreements since you do not have to repay HEAP grants. See pages 35-36 of this booklet, which describe HEAP.

If you do not receive public assistance, you must meet the same requirements described for applicants. If you are eligible for a utility grant, HRA will issue a direct payment to the utility company no greater than the bill for the four most recent months of service.

B. Home Energy Assistance Program

The Home Energy Assistance Program ("HEAP") is a federally funded program, administered by HRA, that helps low-income households to pay for heat. HEAP is awarded once a year on a first-come, first-serve basis while federal funds are available. You should apply for a regular HEAP grant early during the HEAP program year in order to receive assistance. You do not have to pay back any money given to you. There are two types of HEAP grants: Regular Grants and Emergency Grants. Depending upon your financial situation you may qualify for both grants.

1. Regular HEAP

HEAP benefits are automatically available to recipients of PA, Food Stamps and SSI Code A (individuals or couples without children).

To qualify for a HEAP grant you must pay utility bills directly or have heat included in your rent and have household income that falls within HEAP's guidelines.

2. Emergency HEAP

If you have a heating emergency you may be eligible for a HEAP emergency grant. To qualify for a HEAP emergency grant you must meet the eligibility requirements for a regular HEAP grant and have some kind of heat problem. You may be eligible if your heat has been or will be shut off, or if your heating equipment is not working, is unsafe, or needs maintenance or repair.

To apply for HEAP call HRA at (718) 291-1900 or visit the Community Development Agency in Brooklyn (80 DeKalb Avenue) or the Department for the Aging (call (212) 442-HEAP for nearest location).

3. Subsidized Housing

The current state policy on HEAP benefits is to deny benefits to all tenants in government subsidized housing unless the tenant is otherwise eligible AND the tenant pays for heating fuel herself. This means that most tenants in subsidized housing will not receive HEAP benefits, since heat is usually included in their rent. The state policy is being challenged in federal court.

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