Senate OKs more money to help with energy costs
Some senators said warm-weather states are shortchanged.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate on Tuesday approved an extra $1 billion to help low-income families cope with rising energy costs, but first had to settle a confrontation between cold-state and warm-state senators over how the money should be distributed.
The legislation would shift $1 billion intended for the 2007 fiscal year to this year, raising the total amount in 2006 for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to $3.1 billion. The measure, which now moves to the House, passed by a voice vote.
The effort was led by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who said the LIHEAP program couldn't keep up with the 30 percent to 50 percent rise in heating costs in her state this winter. "We've had some very dire and tragic situations," she said, noting that people were having to choose between food or heat or being hospitalized with hypothermia.
Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said in a statement that he supported Snowe's bill. "This is a positive step to provide additional aid for those in need of energy assistance this year."
But Snowe met opposition from her GOP colleagues from warm-weather states, who said LIHEAP was unfairly slanted toward heating, rather than cooling, assistance.
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said LIHEAP spending tends to be front-ended, with the money being used up in the winter months so nothing is left when the temperatures in Arizona climb over 100 degrees.
"We don't deny there is a need," said Rep. John Ensign, R-Nev. But "is it fair across the country or does it benefit some states and not other states?"
Maine's other GOP senator, Susan Collins, defended the legislation: "It's unfortunate and unfair and very disappointing for colleagues to oppose the program simply because it doesn't benefit their region as much as others."
Snowe's original bill would have distributed $250 million under an existing formula that she said would benefit mainly warm-weather states. The remaining $750 million would have been labeled contingency funding and disbursed at the discretion of the president.
But she later offered a concession to Kyl, amending her bill to make it a 50-50 split between formula and emergency spending. Kyl had sought to make the entire $1 billion subject to formula. The amendment passed 68-31.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.