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NV Lawmakers Consider Rescue Energy Assistance



April 11, 2011

CARSON CITY, Nev. - Federal budget cuts are threatening to make it a very hot summer for thousands of Nevada seniors, people with disabilities, and poor or unemployed families, but today state lawmakers are considering a remedy.

The number of Nevada families needing assistance to pay their power bills has jumped by more than 60 percent in past two years. But about $14 million in federal energy assistance could be cut in July, just when the summer heat is reaching its peak. To fill the funding gap, the legislature is considering a fee increase, according to Legal Services statewide advocacy coordinator Jon Sasser.

"The bill would rescue that program by increasing a small fee that everybody pays on their utility bill. For example, if your bill is 100 dollars, you pay 31 cents. This bill would raise it to 62 cents."

Sasser says the measure will need strong bipartisan support, because fee increases in Nevada require a two-thirds vote by the Legislature. Governor Brian Sandoval has already threatened to veto any fee increases, which means even stronger bipartisan support would be needed to override a veto.

Sasser says that, without action by state lawmakers, as many as 16,000 Nevada households could face major cutbacks in energy assistance starting this summer.

"They may lower the benefit so more people get less. They may tighten the eligibility criteria so fewer people quality, or they may just open enrollment for a short period each year, and then close it once they have filled all the slots."

The Energy Assistance Program provides an average credit of about $900, and some 33,000 low-income Nevada households are expected to qualify next year. The measure (AB 457) would generate an estimated $12 million annually. It will be taken up this afternoon by the Assembly Commerce Subcommittee on Energy.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NV
 

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