Preparing for a Cold Winter

As we prepare for another cold winter, many Pennsylvanians are worried about how they will afford to heat their homes. One program which is available to help low-income families pay their energy bills and reduce their home energy costs is the Low Income Housing Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Congress established LIHEAP in 1981 and funds the program each year. State governments administer the program, including deciding the mix and dollar range of benefits, choosing how benefits are provided, and deciding what agencies will administer the program.

For years, LIHEAP has been a highly effective and efficient federal program that delivers help to those who need it most. Since joining the Senate, I have taken advantage of opportunities to increase home energy assistance. 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. In Fiscal Years 2009 and 2010, Congress funded LIHEAP at $5.1 billion, a record funding level. Despite this, over 80% of eligible households do not receive assistance.

In Pennsylvania, the Department of Public Welfare administers LIHEAP. The program provides help through cash grants, which are sent directly to a utility company or fuel provider, and through crisis grants, which help households that have an emergency and are in immediate danger of being without heat. For example, a family of four with an annual income of up to $35,280 can qualify for assistance. Pennsylvania allows for up to 15 percent of its Federal LIHEAP block grant allocation to be allocated to the Weatherization Assistance Program, which helps to make homes more energy efficient, thereby reducing utility bills.

LIHEAP applications are available from November 1, 2010 until March 31, 2011. More information is available at local county assistance offices throughout the state and online at http://www.dpw.state.pa.us/servicesprograms/liheap/. Pennsylvanians may also apply through the COMPASS website ( http://www.compass.state.pa.us). LIHEAP eligibility is limited to households with incomes up to 150% of the federal poverty income guidelines. Priority for aid is given to households with the greatest energy needs or cost burdens, especially those that include disabled individuals, frail older individuals, or young children. Home owners and renters are treated the same.

Green Jobs at ATAS International Inc

Today, I visited ATAS International Inc., which produces metal roofing and siding systems. Over the last 47 years, ATAS has evolved from a one-man operation in a basement to a leading national manufacturer. Second generation owners and brothers, Dick and Jim Bus continue the company’s evolution. They have made significant investment in developing technology that will save money and create jobs by decreasing the amount of electricity and gas needed to heat and cool buildings.

ATAS Visit

ATAS is a leading producer of green technologies that will help modernize our economy. ATAS’s InSpire wall panel can be added to buildings to increase their energy efficiency by trapping heat in the winter and repelling heat in the summer. They have also developed a rooftop photovoltaic system that converts sunlight directly into electricity.

After a tour of the factory, I met with about 40 employees of the company to hear their concerns about the economy. One shared my concerns about companies that receive tax breaks to move manufacturing jobs overseas. I pledged to continue fighting to level the playing field for American manufacturers. Taxpayer money should not be used to subsidize outsourcing of American jobs.

Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act

On April 20, 2010, the Supreme Court in United States v. Stevens held that the Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act of 1999, which attempted to criminalize selling or possessing depictions of animal cruelty for commercial gain, was unconstitutional because the law was overly broad.

In response, Congress has again addressed the issue of “animal crush videos,” which depict violent and obscene acts intentionally performed to torture small animals.  On September 28, 2010, the Senate passed the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act, H.R. 5566, by unanimous consent. The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives on July 21, 2010 and will soon be sent to the President for his signature.

The Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act criminalizes the creation, sale, distribution, advertising, marketing and exchange of animal crush videos, and makes a violation of the law punishable by up to seven years in prison. While helping to stop extreme animal cruelty from occurring, the bill continues to uphold the protection of free speech. For example, the bill specifically exempts veterinary videos, animal husbandry videos, and hunting, trapping and fishing videos.

By addressing the issue of crush videos, the Senate did an important deed to protect the welfare of animals. I strongly support this bill and I am glad that it passed quickly and with the widespread support of the full Senate. I look forward to the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act becoming a law soon.

Connecting Kids and Teens to Health Insurance Coverage

On Monday I was honored to announce a new partnership to connect kids and teens to health insurance coverage in Philadelphia.  Joining me at the event, which was held before an auditorium full of students and faculty from Furness High School, were U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Congressman Chaka Fattah (PA-02), Deputy Superintendent Leroy Nunnery from the School District of Philadelphia and Sarah Martinez-Helfman, Executive Director of the Eagles Youth Partnership, and Furness Principal Timothy McKenna.

Sebelius

Health is fundamental to a child’s ability to succeed inside and outside the classroom, yet eight million children in the United States are uninsured – 222,000 of whom live in Pennsylvania.  More than half these children could be helped by available public health insurance programs – if their parents signed them up.  Up to five million children, and 129,000 of the children in Pennsylvania, are eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), but are not enrolled.  While the percentage of eligible children enrolled in public health programs in Pennsylvania is higher than the national average, more must be done to ensure every eligible child is enrolled.

Secretary Sebelius has issued a challenge to the Nation called “Connecting Kids to Coverage,” which asks groups to commit to taking on new efforts to enroll children and teenagers in health insurance programs.  I was proud to announce at the event yesterday that Philadelphia is the first school district in the Nation, and the Eagles are the first professional sports team, to “step up” to Secretary Sebelius’s Connecting Kids to Coverage Challenge.  The school district and the Eagles Youth Partnership are partnering with Public Citizens for Children and Youth, a group with a longstanding commitment and experience in enrolling children and youth in Philadelphia in health insurance.

These Philadelphia-based organizations have demonstrated great leadership on behalf of children, and I would like to echo the Secretary’s Challenge to all of Pennsylvania: I ask that more community organizations and entities across Pennsylvania “step up!” and accept Secretary Sebelius’s challenge so that we can be sure every child and teen in the state has the coverage he or she needs to succeed in school, athletics and beyond.

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Protecting the Delaware River Basin

Currently, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) is considering regulations to oversee natural gas drilling in the Delaware River watershed. Drilling is a major issue for many towns and communities throughout the basin and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Natural gas has played, and will continue to play, an important role in our energy portfolio as we transition to a new energy future, and we are fortunate to have domestic resources to help meet our growing needs. However, we must develop the Marcellus Shale using the best practices to protect our communities, our people and our environment. While the continued development of this natural resource can lead to job creation and a strengthened state economy, it also presents a significant threat to the water quality of people living near, or downstream from, drilling sites. Over 15 million people, including those living in Philadelphia, acquire their water from water sources within the basin.  The threat cannot be ignored.

Because I believe the development of the Marcellus Shale must be done with the highest regard for the health and welfare of Pennsylvanians and for the protection of our environment, I sent a letter to the DRBC urging that it establish effective regulations for gas drilling activities in the Delaware River Basin. It is imperative that the DRBC put the right regulations in place now so that our State fully benefits from the development of the Marcellus Shale. In addition to the need for effective regulation, I have also called for the DRBC to allow ample opportunity for full public comment on these regulations and ample time for its review of the public’s input.

I believe we have a responsibility to protect the water of the Delaware River Basin, and water throughout Pennsylvania. Even more importantly, the health and safety of Pennsylvanians and other residents of the Delaware River Basin must be safeguarded.  This is why I have introduced the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act of 2010, also known as the FRAC Act. My bill requires that the natural gas industry provide complete disclosure of the chemical composition of hydraulic fracturing materials and requires that hydraulic fracturing be regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. I have also distributed draft legislation entitled the Faster Action Safety Team Emergency Response (FASTER) Act, which will enhance emergency response procedures at oil and gas wells. As stated in my letter, I strongly encourage the DRBC to include in its regulations a hydraulic fracturing fluid disclosure requirement, as well as emergency response provisions.

In 1961, President Kennedy brought together the Governors of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware to form the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC). The five members, those four states and the federal government, signed concurrent legislation creating a regional body in order to maintain the Delaware River system without concern for state boundaries. The DRBC is responsible for water quality protection, water supply allocation, permit reviews, water conservation initiatives, watershed planning, drought management, flood loss reduction and recreation.

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