Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Corporation Commission Candidate will donate 2007 raise to pay utility bills for needy

Cody Graves says state assistance program broke and needs to be replenished. Poor, elderly in jeopardy. At least 13 died this summer. State Corporation Commission candidate Cody Graves said today he will donate a $6,984 pay raise that is set to take effect next year for commissioners to a charity to help pay the heating and cooling utility bills for Oklahoma’s needy.

The Oklahoma City Democrat said if he is elected he would send nearly $600 per month to the Salvation Army to use in its programs that help pay for heating and cooling in the homes of Oklahoma’s poorest families. Graves urged other Oklahomans to also consider helping because the state program that provides assistance payments to thousands of Oklahomans to pay their heating and cooling utility bills has run out of money and is broke for the rest of the year. The program, known as LIHEAP (Low- Income Home Energy Assistance Program) and administered by the state Department of Human Services, made its last payment of $4.2 million to 29,000 households on July 25, in the middle of a brutal summer heat wave.

“It appears this summer that at least 13 Oklahomans, most of them elderly citizens, died because of the unbearable heat and the lack of adequate cooling and air conditioning in their homes,” Graves said. This winter we could have more deaths because people cannot afford to pay their gas bills so they can have heat. “It is an absolute disgrace in this day and age that people – particularly our senior citizens – are dying because they cannot afford to run air conditioners and heaters. “I am extremely worried about the prospects of what a bitter winter might do to thousands of people who now have no hope,” Graves said.

Graves said he knows his money won’t solve the LIHEAP crisis, but it might help a few families. “I am committed to doing whatever it takes to solve this problem. Once I am sworn in, it will be my goal to immediately begin lobbying the Legislature to provide a supplemental appropriation to the LIHEAP program.” Providing additional state funds could allow the state to receive matching money from the federal government, he noted. Graves said the state Senate attempted to boost LIHEAP funding during its last session, but the House refused to consider an increase. “I find it amazing that the Legislature can find the time to give commissioners a nearly $7,000 raise, but they can’t find the time, or the money, to keep poor people from dying of the heat and cold.”

Two of the state’s three incumbent Corporation Commissioners lobbied lawmakers for an increase in LIHEAP funding. Graves said he has been told by the two commissioners and legislators that his opponent, 18- year-incumbent Republican commissioner Bob Anthony did not assist in that effort.

Graves, who runs a company that helps businesses reduce their utility costs, faces Anthony in the November general election. “When Bob Anthony and House Republican Speaker Todd Hiett had the opportunity to really do something tangible and important for the poor and elderly in Oklahoma – they did nothing and that is tragic,” Graves said. As Oklahomans newest commissioner, Graves said he would push for at least a $5 million emergency allocation to the energy-assistance program. He said there is money in the state’s Rainy Day emergency fund for the program – and it should be used to replenish the LIHEAP account.

For more information about Cody Graves click here.

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