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Empire Justice Center Letter in Support of Allowing More Time to Pay Utility Arrears

August 6, 2009


Governor David Paterson 
Executive Chamber
State Capitol
Albany, NY 12224

RE: A.7449/S.3638

Dear Governor Paterson:

The Empire Justice Center strongly urges the Governor to sign A.7449/S.3638, as it will provide much needed assistance to low-income families in New York State. Specifically, this legislation  amends section 131-s(1) of the Social Services Law (SSL) by extending the time period for repaying utility assistance provided by the local social services district  from one year to two years. The change will be effective immediately.

Presently, SSL § 131-s(1) provides that social services districts shall pay for up to four months of utility service prior to the date of an application for public assistance, supplemental security income or additional state payments. When the applicant’s gross household income exceeds the public assistance standard of need – in 2009, between $550 and $738 for a family of three, depending on the county of residence – s/he must sign a repayment agreement to repay the assistance received within one year of the date of the utility payment. These utility payments are necessary to prevent service shut-offs – including water, electricity and heat – and to restore such utility services to an applicant’s residence.

When families are extremely poor and repayment agreements must be paid back in a year, the result is often monthly repayment amounts that families cannot afford, forcing them to fall further behind.  Once in default, they are not eligible for further assistance. 18 NYCRR 352.5(e).  Extending the amount of time allowed to repay the initial utility payment will allow monthly payments to be set at a more realistic amount for low-income families. Given the state of the economy, this amendment is both timely and crucial, if low-income New Yorkers are to have a chance at self-sufficiency.

For the foregoing reasons, we urge the Governor to sign A.7449/S.3638.

For more information, please contact:

Susan C. Antos

Empire Justice Center
119 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY  12210 

(518) 462-6831
(518) 935-2852