The Register Herald (West Virginia), May 1, 2008: Senator pushes monthly handouts for low-income motorists to buy gas

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By Mannix Porterfield

Register-Herald reporter

Monthly handouts of $100 to $165 for low-income motorists strapped to buy gas in a time of soaring prices are being proposed by Sen. Jay Rockefeller.

His idea is patterned after the guidelines of the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program designed to assist those with meager budgets to buy fuel to keep their homes heated.

“I۪m absolutely outraged at the spike in gas prices and the hardship it is creating on thousands of West Virginia who are struggling to make ends meet,” Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said Thursday.

The senator۪s proposal follows a controversial plan initially offered by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., then mirrored by another presidential hopeful, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., to temporarily suspend the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

That idea was ridiculed by West Virginia Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox as one that would provide only feeble relief to motorists while robbing the highway fund of sorely needed federal road dollars.

“I۪m equally outraged that this hardship is coming at the time that oil companies are pocketing record-breaking profits,” Rockefeller said.

Under the Rockefeller plan, just as the LIHEAP program works, those eligible for monthly gas-help checks must be at 130 percent of poverty level, or $26,845 in annual income for a family of four.

Rockefeller۪s plan comes at a time when gas is running $3.75 per gallon in West Virginia.

“Congress must take action now to provide immediate relief,” he said.

“This is about people and families who are struggling, and many of them have no choice but to drive far away because that۪s where the jobs are.”

Rockefeller said the proposal would provide some short-term relief but emphasized a long-range plan is needed.

The senator said President Bush and some members of Congress have ignored pleas to focus on alternative sources of fuel, such as clean coal, while the nation۪s reliance on foreign oil has grown.

Rockefeller repeated his support for oil and gas exploration in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, a source of some 1.26 billion new barrels for the short-term output, but remains opposed to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Seeking oil there would only damage the environment and not provide any meaningful benefit for one to two decades.

On another point, Rockefeller said he wants to halt additional deposits into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, now only 3 percent away from being full.

The senator also called for a windfall profits tax on integrated, multi-national oil firms.

“These companies are making huge, unconscionable profits off the hard-working people in my state, and it must be stopped,” he added.


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