Officials back aid for heating bills

Thursday, December 22, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Gov. Matt Blunt and legislative leaders teamed up Wednesday to back a proposed increase in government aid for low-income Missourians struggling to pay high winter heating bills.

The spending proposal would have to be approved as a supplement to the state's budget after legislators return to work Jan. 4.

The state already expects to receive more than $40 million from the federal government for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Wednesday's proposal would appropriate an additional $6.1 million in state money to fund the similarly functioning Utilicare program.

Among those joining Blunt in announcing the spending proposal were Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, and House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill.

Natural gas prices have reached record highs in recent weeks, which have caused more Missourians than last year to request help paying their heating bills.

Last year, the state received $48 million in federal aid for the low-income energy assistance program.

That money provided one-time grants to help more than 113,000 households pay their utility bills, said Deborah Scott, a spokeswoman for the Department of Social Services, which administers the program. It also provided help to 73,000 households whose utility service had been cut off or was in danger of being shut off. Some of those households may have received aid from both categories, she said.

Applications for the one-time energy grants are up 24 percent this year when compared to the same period last year, Scott said.

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