The leading cause of weather related deaths in the U.S. is due to heat, yet during one of worst heat waves in state history, Texas is holding onto millions of dollars intended to help hundreds of thousands of elderly and low-income residents pay their electric bills.
The Dallas Morning News reported that the state has collected $130 million this fiscal year to help financially strapped Texas residents pay for the cost of electricity used for cooling, but has spent only $28 million so far, half as much as it did to help the poor and elderly get through the summer a decade ago.
The reason: State lawmakers have diverted the money to deal with the budget shortfall. Saturday was the 29th consecutive day that it reached at least 100 degrees in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and Austin had seen 46 days of triple digit days so far this summer. The much hoped for relief that tropical storm Don was predicted to bring to parts of South and Central Texas fizzled as the storm came ashore and the National Weather Service forecast called for the oppressive heat to continue this week as the ridge of high pressure settles once more over the Lone Star state.
Texas leaders have said that until the economy recovers and lawmakers overhaul the state tax code, they have no choice but to use the dedicated-fee money elsewhere. Chief Senate budget writer Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said the only alternative to providing all the funds to help elderly and low-income citizens pay their electricity bills in this record breaking heat, would have been to cut more out of education, public safety and other key programs.
The money for the energy bill assistance is paid by fees collected from more than 6 million households and businesses. It is attached to utility bills and for the average residential ratepayer, it is about $1 a month.
Gov. Rick Perry proposed ending the assessment four years ago because the money was being diverted, but it was left in and is once again being diverted.