Chairman Johnnie Crutchfield called Friday for a special fact-finding meeting of the full Senate Appropriations Committee to consider methods by which the state can augment the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program next.
“Skyrocketing energy prices will hit home for many Oklahoma families when the cold winter months ahead drive up the cost of their home heating bills,” said Crutchfield, D-Ardmore. “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 has scheduled the meeting for 1 p.m. Wednesday, October 26.
LIHEAP is a federally-funded program to help eligible low income households meet their home heating and/or cooling needs.
Predictions are that natural gas prices could set new record highs in the coming months, perhaps as much as $15 per thousand cubic feet (Mcf). By comparison, natural gas prices topped out at $8 Mcf last winter. Heating bills are expected to be as much as
50 percent higher as a result of those higher prices, Crutchfield said.
“If we have a particularly cold winter, many families could have to choose between keeping warm and buying groceries,” said Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Robert Kerr. “Working Oklahomans are already struggling to make ends meet with gasoline prices remaining above $2 a gallon. By adding state funds to the federal dollars in the LIHEAP program, we can ease the burden on working families.”
Oklahoma received about $12 million from the federal government for LIHEAP last year. Even though the new federal fiscal year began Oct. 1, Congress has yet to pass the budget bill containing LIHEAP funding so the state does not yet know how much it will receive for the program from the federal government.
Senator Bernest Cain, chairman of the Appropriations Sub-Committee on Health and Human Services, said the full committee will seek input from the Department of Human Services and the American Association of Retired Persons and other organizations to determine the severity of the need for LIHEAP funds in Oklahoma.
Crutchfield and Kerr said the committee will also explore the availability of funds for a supplemental appropriation to DHS early next session for distribution to Oklahoma families as soon as possible.