COLUMBUS - The Ohio Senate yesterday overwhelmingly approved a program to provide one-time credits of up to $250 toward the high heating bills of poor Ohioans.
“The crisis is not over,” said Senate Minority Leader Leigh Herington (D., Ravenna). “I hope we will not forget, as May and June come along, that there's still a problem out there for many people in the state of Ohio.”
The state has so far avoided the energy crisis and rolling blackouts experienced by Californians but not without a jolt to wallets.
Project THAW (Temporary Heating Assistance for Warmth) pools $25 million in federal welfare money and $20 million in state funds to provide credits of up to 50 percent of a single month's heating bill, or $250, whichever is less.
To be eligible, participants may earn no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $29,260 for a family of three. The credit applies to any heating fuel.
The bill must return to the House next week for approval of changes made by the Senate.
Applications are flowing into county Job and Family Services agencies, but only those families with children eligible for the federal funds have been given credits against their heating bills. That portion of the program did not need legislative approval.
Other applicants, including senior citizens and couples without children, will have to wait until Governor Taft signs the bill into law, freeing the $20 million in state funds.
The bill authorizes local governments to band together, or aggregate, to negotiate with natural-gas marketers for better rates for their residents. Some senators cite this provision as one part of a long-term solution.
The Senate gave unanimous approval to the state's $5.6 billion transportation budget for the next two years. The budget, fueled primarily by motor-fuel taxes and license fees, funds several agencies. The portion going to the Department of Transportation amounts to $4.5 billion. The other $1.1 billion is split among the Department of Development, the Department of Public Safety, the Public Works Commission.
Changes made by the Senate must still win House approval.