While traveling around Pennsylvania this week, the cold winter weather and the rising cost of electricity and home heating has had me thinking of the many Pennsylvanians struggling to pay their utility bills. Since joining the Senate, I have taken advantage of every opportunity to increase home energy assistance. I strongly supported funding Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) at $5.1 billion for Fiscal Year 2010, the same as Fiscal Year 2009 and the highest level ever funded for the program. As rising energy prices, a slowing economy and increasing food costs place a heavy burden on our must vulnerable citizens, the federal government has a responsibility to help people afford the most basic needs.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission last month reported that 17,000 households in the state were without heat. It greatly troubles me that in Fiscal Year 2009, the number of homeowners whose utility service was disconnected increased by 5 percent because people could not afford to pay. This increase is especially alarming in light of the fact that federal emergency-bill assistance doubled this year and in many parts of the country utility rates lowered. Over the past two years, our Nation has endured the most difficult economic situation in recent memory. In Pennsylvania, the unemployment rate has grown to 8.5 percent, which means that over half a million people are out of work. It is very important that as our economy recovers, people continue to have electricity, especially during the winter months.
Although as a U.S. Senator I am unable to take direct action on Pennsylvania’s decision to deregulate its electricity generation industry, I am watching the situation closely. Experts predict that deregulation will cause an increase in electricity bills when rate caps expire, which has already occurred in parts of the state and will be completed by 2011. I am very concerned about what such an increase would mean for the people and industries located in our state. For this reason, I have asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to look into competition and rates in wholesale electricity markets. I will continue to follow this critically important issue. For those interested in learning more about how to better shop for residential electricity, I recommend visiting the Pennsylvania Office of the Consumer Advocate’s website.
At the end of December, I held two video conferences on Pennsylvania jobs. The first event took place in Bradford at the University of Pittsburgh. Local business, education and government leaders from McKean, Warren and Elk counties gathered to share their views on the local employment situation with me. I held a similar meeting with representatives from Huntingdon, Mifflin and Juniata counties, who convened at Juniata College. Through these meetings I get a clearer picture of the challenges facing Pennsylvania families and communities and hear common sense suggestions for how we can put more Pennsylvanians back to work and create family-sustaining jobs in the Commonwealth.
We must all work together to pursue ideas for spurring job growth in the short-term and building a foundation for a stronger, more stable economy in the long-term. These video roundtables were the first in a series of such job conferences that I am holding as I continue to listen to workers, small business owners and local leaders on the best ways to create jobs and boost our economy. I want to help turn their ideas into action when I return to Washington.
In August, the unemployment rate in Pennsylvania reached 8.6%, which reflects a total of 540,000 Pennsylvanians without jobs. By the end of the year as many as 70,000 Pennsylvanians will exhaust their unemployment benefits. To respond to their needs, I am cosponsoring S. 1699, the Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2009. This bill would provide an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits in states, such as Pennsylvania, with unemployment rates at or above 8.5%. Recently, similar legislation overwhelmingly passed in the House of Representatives, and I am hopeful that the Senate too will take quick action on this bill. I encourage you to follow the progress of this bill at THOMAS.gov, legislative information from the Library of Congress.
If you need immediate assistance with applying for unemployment insurance, please contact my Harrisburg office by calling (717) 231-7540 or writing to 22 S. Third Street, Suite 6A, Harrisburg, PA 17101.
I would like to take a moment and share with you how glad I am that a forum on Clean Energy Jobs in Pennsylvania happened today. This was a great opportunity for different groups to discuss the future of Clean Energy Jobs in our state.
As global climate change legislation is debated in the Senate, I am dedicated to ensuring that Pennsylvania workers are protected while new jobs are being created. In my remarks this morning, I mentioned how exciting it is to be part of a state that is moving towards advancements in technology that allow us to be the frontrunner in Clean Energy Job creation. A June 2009 report from The Pew Charitable Trust ranked Pennsylvania third in the nation for jobs related to clean energy. In 2007, Pennsylvania boasted over 10,000 Clean Energy Jobs and another 25,000 jobs in conservation and pollution mitigation technology. Companies such as Aztec Solar Power, Flabeg, and Gamesa are adding jobs in the solar and wind industries to Pennsylvania and leading the change towards growth in clean energy jobs.
I am steadfastly committed to ensure that we can bring new manufacturing jobs and new technologies to Pennsylvania and end the decades’ old habit of shipping jobs across seas. Through clean energy jobs we can strengthen Pennsylvania’s economy and move towards a “greener” tomorrow. If you would like to hear my comments on this morning’s forum, please view my video message to the Pennsylvania Clean Energy Economy Forum.
Vice-President Joe Biden has begun a tour of the country to highlight infrastructure improvements made possible by the Economic Stimulus Package. Pennsylvania was his first stop on the "Road to Recovery" tour. The Vice-President visited a bridge in Carlisle PA, his second visit to this bridge since February. The eighty year old bridge is being replaced using $1.7 million of federal funding, and will reopen by the end of November, 2009.
This bridge is one of many projects in Pennsylvania that will has received funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Pennsylvania will receive almost $5 billion through ARRA that will go towards infrastructure improvements and education initiatives that will create and protect jobs across the state.