An initiative that would transfer state marriage initiative funds to a heating assistance program has cleared its first legislative hurdle. SB 264, which mandates the funding transfer, was approved unanimously by the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday.
Senator Kevin Easley, who first proposed the transfer in January, expects the measure to gain widespread legislative support.
"I don't see how anyone could be against beefing up our heating assistance program, especially at a time when a lot of Oklahomans are having to choose between heating their homes and buying groceries. We're taking money that currently isn't being used and applying it to a very good cause," said Senator Easley.
SB 264 mandates the transfer of $8.8 million in surplus federal welfare funds currently designated for the state marriage initiative. The money would go to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and then be distributed to working families and senior citizens to help pay their heating bills.
The bill also stipulates that the funds come from the marriage initiative, not other funding sources at the DHS, such as children's programs. Senator Easley said that section was added after DHS officials suggested using welfare money slated for children's programs instead of tapping marriage initiative funds.
"Raiding children's programs is not an option. It doesn't make sense to take money that is earmarked for day care and other worthwhile initiatives when marriage funds are sitting unused at DHS gathering dust," said Senator Easley.
Governor Keating has endorsed the proposed funding transfer, but he is also advocating that the marriage initiative money be replaced with funds from other sources. Senator Easley said most of the legislators he has spoken with are opposed to that idea because the bulk of marriage initiative money that has been spent to date has gone to consultants and public relations efforts.
With that in mind, a section in SB 264 mandates that the marriage initiative money cannot be replenished without legislative approval.
"Lining the pockets of a few political friends isn't going to cut the divorce rate in Oklahoma. We should use the money to help as many people as we can, not just the select few who happen to have the right political connections," said Senator Easley.