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Senate Approves More LIHEAP Dollars for 2006

The Senate late Tuesday approved by voice vote a measure that shifts $1 billion in funds that were set aside to aid low-income energy in fiscal year 2007 to the current fiscal year.

The vote came on the heels of the Senate move last week to waive the budget act, which cleared the path for senators to vote Tuesday on whether to transfer $1 billion included for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in a recent deficit-reduction measure from fiscal 2007 to the current fiscal year. The measure (S 2320) was sponsored by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and other Northeast senators.

By 68 to 31, the Senate approved a second-degree amendment, also offered by Snowe, that would place 50% of the additional LIHEAP dollars in a "contingency" fund to be distributed by President Bush in emergency situations. These funds will typically go to help poor energy consumers in cold-weather states pay their heating bills during the winter season.

The other half of the additional LIHEAP funds will be distributed according to long-held formula funding, which lawmakers contend will aid poor energy consumers in both warm- and cold-weather states.

"I think that [50-50 allocation] is patently fair to all the states, to all the regions," Snowe said. Republicans, such as Sen. John Ensign of Colorado and Jon Kyl of Arizona, had fought to have all of the additional LIHEAP monies distributed based on formula funding, which they said more fairly recognized the needs of consumers in warm-weather states who need help with their energy bills during the summer months when air-conditioning loads are high.

"Our point is that the contingency fund has not been allocated fairly," Ensign said, adding that most of the LIHEAP funds are depleted during the winter months. There is a definite "bias toward the northern states" in the LIHEAP program, he noted.

Following the Senate vote, Kyl conceded that the "50-50 compromise" offered by Snowe would benefit all states, not just those in the North.

Snowe and her supporters in the Senate have been trying since late last year to obtain an increase in LIHEAP funding for Maine and other Frost Belt states. Despite the huge run-up in natural gas prices as the winter heating season approached last November, Congress allocated fewer LIHEAP dollars for fiscal year 2006 than in fiscal year 2005.

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