Leaders look for help for low-income Oklahomans

Saturday, October 15th 2005, 12:02 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Gov. Brad Henry and legislative leaders vowed Friday to do what they can to make sure low-income Oklahomans get help this winter with their heating bills in the face of escalating energy prices.

``Because of rising natural gas prices, it's going to be a tough winter for Oklahomans,'' Henry said. ``We need to do everything we can to ease the burden on consumers, particularly senior citizens who are on fixed incomes. They shouldn't have to choose between buying food and paying their heating bill.''

The federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program delivered $8 million in heating assistance to almost 100,000 Oklahoma households last winter and a similar amount is expected this year.

Henry said he is concerned that amount will not be enough and plans to talk to members of the state's congressional delegation about increasing funding for the LIHEAP program. He also is exploring the possibility of supplementing the federal program with state funding.

House Speaker Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville, announced he is appointing a task force to look at the problem.

He said the task force will work hand in hand with an interim study requested by Rep. Ron Peters, R-Tulsa, which will consider a new, permanent funding mechanism for LIHEAP.

Rep. Ryan Kiesel, D-Seminole, said the most recent U.S. Census figures show almost twice as many Oklahomans qualify for LIHEAP assistance as received $100 in aid last year.

Kiesel said Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have exacerbated the increase in natural gas and oil prices.

Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield, D-Ardmore, said he will hold a fact-finding meeting Oct. 26 of his Senate Appropriations Committee to consider ways the state can augment the LIHEAP program.

``By gathering information now, the Senate can present its findings to the governor in November and be prepared to act when the next session of the Legislature convenes in February,'' Crutchfield said.

Henry said he wants to determine if the Department of Human Services, which administers the LIHEAP program, can transfer some of its state agency funds to meet immediate heating needs.