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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

LIHEAP: stop getting things done!

Posted by: Hammer / 10:14 AM

Quick correction: I posted earlier that states were running out of LIHEAP funds. This report contradicts the NAEDA statement:

It turns out that the $88 million received by Massachusetts in federal LIHEAP funds this year was disseminated to 22 local community action agencies, which gives the money to poor residents.

Massachusetts, at least, is "out" of federal LIHEAP dollars because the money has been distributed to local communities.

Meanwhile, the Bangor News hits the nail on the head:

Back in December, Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins said they had cut an uncomfortable deal. They would vote for cloture on a Defense appropriations bill that included drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In return, they would get, right after the Senate voted on the Samuel Alito nomination, a vote for $2 billion in increased funding for home heating. Justice Alito is now, of course, on the court, but the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program is still waiting for that vote.

...The senators have tried a half dozen ways to get one, but they have yet to be successful. Next up, perhaps by Tuesday, Feb. 28, is an amendment to a flood-insurance bill that would shift LIHEAP funding from fiscal year '07 to the current year and allow $1 billion to be spent at the president's discretion this winter.

That idea is being held up by fiscal conservatives, notably Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. But even that funding is not a great deal because it would set up the system for crisis next year, when, according to news reports, the president's budget would cut weatherization programs by nearly one-third.

... The leader with whom Maine's senators made that cloture-vote deal, Sen. Bill Frist, hasn't been able to persuade members of his caucus to help him keep his word. So in response last week, Sen. Snowe put a hold on a bill to extend the Federal Emergency Management Agency's authority to borrow. That was to get the attention of some southern state senators who may not have understood the necessity of the LIHEAP funding.

... The current mutual death grip of holds on LIHEAP and FEMA authority are hurting people in real need of federal help. This is a debate that never should have broken down so badly.

Pin the blame where you want: on Frist for making a promise he couldn't keep; on Snowe, Collins, and Sen. Smilin' Norm Coleman (R-MN) for taking Frist at his word; or on Coburn for blocking aid to some of our country's neediest citizens. Wherever you place the blame, it's clear that Smilin' Norm's leaders and colleagues are screwing his constituents. He can talk about natural gas prices until he's blue in the face, but he should be talking to Sens. Frist and Coburn about getting a vote on LIHEAP. Here's Coleman's own statement from Feb. 22:

That is why I am not only leading the PSI examination of the natural gas market, but am also fighting in the Senate for the assistance Minnesotans need from the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). This program gives grants to the most vulnerable people in our communities to pay their heating bills. During budget negotiations, I fought to secure a commitment from Senate leadership to move forward an additional $2 billion for LIHEAP. As Congress crafts a budget and begins the appropriations process this spring, I will continue to fight for full LIHEAP funding for Fiscal Year 2007.

He's fighting so hard that the $2 billion in additional funding has transformed into an advance on next year's funding. And, according to most news accounts, been reduced from $2 billion to $1 billion.

Smilin' Norm: delivering a day late this winter and a billion dollars short next winter. Please, Norm, stop getting things done!


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