December 18, 2011

Maine on the Hill: Heating aid takes big hit

Maine's benefit will fall from an average of $802 per household last year to $483 unless more money is found.

By Jonathan Riskind jriskind@mainetoday.com
Washington Bureau Chief

A federal home heating program that aids thousands of low-income Mainers still suffered a major cut in a broad year-end spending bill approved Saturday by Congress.

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program will receive $3.5 billion in the final 2012 spending bill that covers much of the federal government -- far less than the $4.7 billion LIHEAP received last winter.

This puts Maine in line to get about $38.5 million this winter, compared to $56.5 million last winter, according to MaineHousing, which oversees the program for the state.

Last winter, 63,802 Maine households, with an average income of $16,757, got LIHEAP benefits averaging $802 over the winter heating season, according to MaineHousing.

About 65,000 households are expected to apply for the aid this winter, but the per-household benefit would drop to an average of $483 unless more money is found.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, says she and Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., will keep pushing a bill to boost the program back to $4.7 billion, but that seems a heavy lift given the current budget climate.

The Obama administration had requested only $2.57 billion for the heating program. The increase above the White House's request is a positive step, but "funding the program at $3.5 billion is disappointing and remains a massive cut," Snowe says.

DEFENSE BILL FUNDS MAINE PROJECTS

A $662 billion defense bill approved last week by Congress gives the final go-ahead to a number of military projects in Maine, according to Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe.

The biggest single chunk of Maine defense spending in the bill was $2.5 billion for work on Arleigh Burke- and Zumwalt-class destroyers at Bath Iron Works, according to the Maine Republicans. The project had already been approved, but the bill grants permission for the money to actually be spent.

Also in the defense bill: $80 million for machine guns and gun modifications built at General Dynamic's facility in Saco and $30 million for Maine Military Authority in Limestone, which repairs Humvees and other vehicles.

Collins, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also touted several proposals she helped author that were passed as part of the defense bill, including one that requires the Obama administration to develop a plan to keep missing Libyan missiles out of terrorist hands.

SAILORS' REPATRIATION STALLS

Lt. Henry Wadsworth, the Navy officer from Maine who died in 1804 aboard the Intrepid in Tripoli's harbor, isn't coming home anytime soon.

The campaign by Maine's senators and other lawmakers to repatriate the remains of Wadsworth and 12 other sailors has been scuttled for the foreseeable future, consigned to the legislative graveyard known as a report.

Wadsworth, the uncle and namesake of the famous poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was second-in-command on the ship.

The repatriation provision was in the House-passed version of the defense bill, but the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain of Arizona, blocked it in the Senate.

McCain also was on the House-Senate committee that crafted the final bill approved last week by Congress, a strong hint that the repatriation effort was in trouble.

The final bill tells the Department of Defense and the Navy to determine within 270 days the feasibility of recovering and identifying the remains of the sailors and report back to the Senate and House Armed Services committees with a recommendation on what to do.

But the Navy has insisted that the final resting place of the sailors is their burial ground in Libya. And nothing suggests that McCain will relent on his opposition.

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at:

jriskind@mainetoday.com

Twitter: Twitter.com/MaineTodayDC

 

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