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Storm-Hit Areas Get Federal Aid

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As the final days of 2000 produced yet another major snowstorm in the already-frigid Northeast, President Clinton announced Saturday he will release $300 million in emergency funds to help low-income Americans pay for home heating oil.

Clinton also listed additional actions the government will take to try to lessen energy shortages during a winter that is expected to be the coldest in several years.

“The year 2000 is drawing to a close at a moment of great progress, prosperity and peace for America,” Clinton said in his weekly radio address. “But while we have many reasons to be thankful, good weather is not one of them.”

Clinton said he has directed the Department of Health and Human Services to release $300 million in funds from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, bringing to $856 million the total of such emergency funds released since September to ease the strain of high fuel costs on low-income households.

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The bulk of the $300 million will go to New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Michigan.

“None of us can control the weather, but all of us are responsible for how we respond to and prepare for it,” Clinton said. “With the actions I am taking, the federal government is fulfilling its responsibility.”

Clinton also ordered the Energy and Transportation departments to work together to ensure the heating oil distribution system--roads, rivers and pipelines--was not disrupted by inclement weather.

He specifically said the agencies should ensure that navigation lanes in U.S. harbors are free of ice so that ships carrying heating oil can get through.

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Clinton also ordered managers of all federal buildings in the Northwest to join those in California in reducing consumption of electricity during peak hours.

Turning to the major energy problem plaguing California, Clinton announced that Energy Secretary Bill Richardson has extended an emergency order to power plants that provide electricity to the state to keep the power available.

Finally, Clinton said he has asked the Small Business Administration to work with its lending partners to make short- and long-term loans available to small businesses to relieve the pressure of increasing energy costs.

“The simple lesson we’ve learned again and again is that the best way to meet challenges is to stay ahead of them,” he said.

According to meteorologists, November and December this year have been among the coldest on record. The latest storms--including recent ice storms in the Plains states--have left at least 40 people dead and thousands without electricity.

“All this, along with the increased demand for energy that has accompanied unparalleled economic growth, is putting enormous pressure on the energy supplies Americans need to heat their homes and businesses,” Clinton said.

The president said his September decision to release 30 million barrels of crude oil from the federal government’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve helped avert a supply crisis that would have particularly hurt oil inventories in the Northeast.

“At the time, many said that using the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to help Americans heat their homes was a ‘terrible’ idea, that it would never work,” he said. “Well, now we have the results. I’m pleased to report that inventories of crude oil are up and prices have dropped substantially, from $37 to $26 a barrel. Home heating oil prices also have fallen in recent weeks, and supply shortfalls have been cut by more than half.

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“But even though heating oil prices have begun to ease, the cost of heating a home still is too high, especially for families on low and fixed incomes,” Clinton said.

He praised Americans’ response to the latest weather crisis.

“Across the nation Americans are doing their part. Snowplow drivers are working late into the night. Emergency shelter workers are offering a warm place to sleep for families whose homes are without power. Younger neighbors are bringing hot food to their older neighbors and shoveling their walkways.

“The worst weather,” Clinton said, “always seems to bring out the best in the American people.”


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