Senate passes bill to spend more on low-income energy assistance

Staff report
The Statehouse File

INDIANAPOLIS – The Senate unanimously passed a bill Tuesday that will make more money available to help low-income Hoosiers pay their utility bills.

If House Bill 1141 becomes law, the state will put about $3.7 million to $4.4 million more into the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program annually.

That’s roughly the amount the state collects from sales taxes charged to homeowners who participate in the program, which is otherwise funded by Congress.

Critics have said that LIHEAP could help more people if the state would exempt its participants from paying sales taxes on their utility bills, thus saving the program money. As passed by the House, the legislation would have created that exemption for one year.

But the Senate amended the legislation. As passed by the Senate, the bill would now create a fund to receive Indiana’s share of a multi-state mortgage foreclosure settlement that was negotiated in part by Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller. Indiana expects to receive about $46 million from the settlement.

The bill would transfer some of that money – an amount based on the sales taxes charged to LIHEAP homeowners – back to the utility program to help more Hoosiers.

“We’re in a fortunate situation,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville. “We’re able to increase the program without having additional costs to our budgetary funds.”

According to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, the state will receive about $82.3 million for LIHEAP this year, down from more than $107 million last year. Only part of that funding is subject to the sales tax, LSA said. Federal LIHEAP funding for 2013 is unknown.

The bill now goes back to the House – which passed a different version of the legislation – for consideration.

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