Canton Repository

March 24, 2006

Ohio to get $59 million more for heating assistance

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON - Ohio will receive an additional $59 million in funding for heating assistance for needy residents as part of a $1 billion package of aid Congress approved last week.

As a result of the increased aid, Gov. Bob Taft is expected to announce today he is extending the deadline for applying for one of the assistance programs.

Under the programs, low-income residents can apply for assistance in paying their heating bills, which have risen dramatically in the last year as a result of increased costs for natural gas and oil.

Congress’ decision to add $1 billion to the federally funded aid program followed a debate in which fiscal conservatives argued that the extra money was unnecessary. The added $1 billion for 2006 is being taken out of the allocation for heating assistance in 2007.

Advocates of the increase, including Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Cedarville, and Rep. Bob Ney, R-Heath, insisted the extra funding was essential in light of higher energy costs. The cost of heating has risen partly as a result of hurricane damage to the oil and natural gas industry on the Gulf Coast last year.

Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, voted against adding $1 billion to the program when the House approved the extra funding last week. He was not immediately available to discuss the issue at the end of the day Thursday. Regula was instrumental in crafting an earlier proposal to add $750 million to emergency heating aid, which won approval from a House committee.

As of March 8, 241,000 Ohio residents have received aid from the state-administered program, which typically makes direct payments to utilities to help cover the heating bills of residents who have been approved for assistance. As of March 8 2005, 157,000 residents had received assistance through the program.

In Ohio, the regular Home Energy Assistance Program provides help paying heating bills for families whose income is less than 175 percent of the federal poverty line. For a family of four, that is $33,863.

Heating bills for the period from Sept. 1 through March 31 are eligible for assistance.

Residents can apply for help through the regular program until the end of May, Ohio Department of Development spokeswoman Holly Pendell said. However, only bills for the period between September and March are eligible for the aid.

A second program, the Emergency Home Energy Assistance Program, is aimed at residents who had their heat shut off because of nonpayment of bills, are threatened with a shutoff or have fewer than 10 days of heating fuel left. They must meet similar low-income guidelines.

Taft is expected to announce today that the additional funds allow the state to extend the deadline for applying for emergency assistance to April 28. As of the end of the day Thursday, the deadline for applying for emergency assistance was still March 31.

More information on the assistance and applications are available by calling the state at (800) 282-0880 or from local community action agencies or libraries.

If there is funding left after all the winter heating aid has been paid, the state may use it for a summer program that provides air conditioners to needy elderly and disabled residents, Pendell said. Leftover funds also could be saved for heating assistance next year.

Last year, Ohio received $105 million in federal funding for heating aid. With the additional $59 million, Ohio is receiving a total of $164 million in heating aid for the past winter.

Ney was among a minority of Republicans who joined almost all House Democrats to add the $1 billion in heating assistance. Democratic Reps. Tim Ryan of Niles, Ted Strickland of Lisbon and Sherrod Brown of Avon also voted for the $1 billion. Regula voted against adding the $1 billion.

In the Senate, both DeWine and Sen. George Voinovich, R-Cleveland, voted to add the $1 billion in assistance.