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PA Governor Asks Legislature, Utilities, Companies for $30M in Energy Assistance

Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell has called on the state legislature, state utility companies and energy providers to provide an additional $30 million this winter for low income energy assistance because average home heating bills in the state are expected to increase about 48% and the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) will be insufficient to cover the increase.

The governor also has taken action to ensure greater conservation at state facilities and has asked state regulators to craft new rules for utility companies to ensure that poor families are given a second chance before their fuel is turned off.

On Sept. 28, Rendell joined governors from 28 other states to ask Congress to increase federal LIHEAP funding. LIHEAP funding would have increased by $3.4 billion to $5.1 billion this year under the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 that Congress passed. However, only $1.9 billion was appropriated. The American Gas Association (AGA) said recently that amount could be less than half of what is needed. The governors as well as AGA are seeking an emergency increase in LIHEAP funding before the winter heating season.

An amendment to the Transportation, Treasury, Judiciary, House and Urban Development spending bill for fiscal year 2006 (HR 3058) was proposed last week by Sens. Jack Reed (D-RI), Susan Collins (D-ME), John Kerry (D-MA) and several other Democrats that would have provided and additional $3.1 billion in emergency LIHEAP funding this winter (fiscal year 2006). However, the measure was voted down on Thursday.

"In addition to seeking more federal funds to make sure our poor families and our seniors are protected this winter, I am asking the state legislature to authorize up to $18 million in state funds -- $15 million for LIHEAP and $3 million for HEMAP [Homeowners' Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program] -- to support our efforts and to make sure those who need our help receive it because we cannot rely on the federal government to meet the needs of Pennsylvanians," Rendell said in a statement.

"I believe it is urgent and wise for the president to increase funding for LIHEAP," he added. "There is more that federal funding can do, and there is more that companies profiting from energy supply shortages can do by taking some of their profits and helping poor families stay warm this winter."

As part of his "Stay Warm PA" package, Rendell will ask for up to $15 million in state money -- a first for the commonwealth -- to supplement federal funds that may be insufficient. LIHEAP served 350,000 Pennsylvania households last year, nearly one-third of whom were senior citizens. Rendell also is asking the legislature to provide $3 million to boost the state's HEMAP.

Additionally, he will meet with CEOs of the state's major utilities in the next two weeks to challenge them to meet their required participation rates under the Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) by doubling their enrollment. The governor added that utilities are required to provide assistance to help low-income consumers, and he will seek PUC action against any firms that fail to improve their participation.

Rendell said large energy companies need to voluntarily share some of their profits to help needy citizens cover their heating expenses. He lauded several utility and energy companies that have pledged to increase help this winter. Equitable Energy Corp. has pledged up to $9 million toward low-income energy assistance for customers in its service market. Exelon/PECO has pledged to increase its assistance by $5.9 million this year. Additionally, Sunoco is filling up fuel tanks for a limited number of families who qualify for LIHEAP. Rendell called on other companies to join in providing additional assistance.

The governor is calling a statewide Stay Warm PA summit on Nov. 1 to bring together the leadership of the United Way, Red Cross, Salvation Army, AFL-CIO and the Pennsylvania Council of Churches as well as Jewish and Muslim organizations to mobilize volunteers to weatherize homes, assist the frail and elderly, establish warm rooms in homes and community centers and address the winter heating crisis.

Rendell also has called for more energy conservation from state agencies. He's directed that thermostats in state buildings be turned down to 68 degrees, additional hybrid vehicles be purchased and energy savings programs be aggressively enforced. He also called on the legislature to enable the Energy Star Sales Tax Holiday Program and to expand it to include insulation and other weatherization materials. The federal government will permit tax credits in January 2006 and Pennsylvania should consider similar action, he said.

"Conservation is the best long-term strategy for our nation and every family in keeping energy costs down," Rendell said. "It makes sense in an energy shortage to offer incentives to families to purchase energy-efficient appliances that will help them lower their costs."

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