One of the issues dearest to Paul Wellstone was the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP. LIHEAP provides relief to low-income families facing heating bills they can't afford. Studies show that roughly 20-25% of folks facing unaffordable heating bills will go without medicine to pay for them, while another 10-15% will go without food.
Of course, it costs a lot more to heat one's home under the best of circumstance on the frozen tundra of Northern Minnesota than most anywhere else in the contiguous United States, and it's not getting cheaper. Of course, this is lost on our "leaders" in Washington DC. But fortunately, not on Hugo Chavez.
The Chavez government's foreign aid initiative, aptly named " From the Venezuelan Heart to the U.S. Hearths " has come to the frozen tundra. Real heating assistance for some truly needy folks in the coldest part of the US is on the way. The Minneapolis http://www.startribune.com/... StarTribune] have the details:
When the Venezuelan-owned Citgo Petroleum Corp. approached the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe with a gift of about $1.7 million in heating assistance, members of the tribe's six bands raised a collective eyebrow.
"There are a lot of people who offer things to Indians," said Winona LaDuke, a member of the White Earth Band and director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project. "I see a lot of snake oil salesmen coming to Indian country."
LaDuke's name may sound familiar to Kossacks. Yes, she's that Winona LaDuke, Ralph Nader's running mate in 2000, who endorsed John Kerry (along with many other progressive Nader2000 backers) in 2004.
But the deal proved genuine: Texas-based Citgo dispensed millions of gallons of heating oil last year to roughly 181,000 American households in need in the Northeast and is expanding the program this winter, according to the company's website. LaDuke now is a facilitator for Citgo's program in Minnesota.
Still, there were the political connotations of accepting fuel from a firm owned by Venezuela's state oil company. The firm has a direct link to President Hugo Chavez, who famously called President Bush "the devil" in September during a speech at the United Nations.
But the only possible smell of sulphur coming from White Earth these days would be the good kind: from Venezuela heating oil being delivered to poor households in Minnesota's north.
Citgo's program, called "From the Venezuelan Heart to the U.S. Hearths," has been widely viewed as an effort by Chavez to embarrass the U.S. government.
And it effectively does just this. Not that they have to try hard.
Wayne Bohn, an attorney for the Leech Lake Band, said the politics of the deal were "hotly debated," but the tribe didn't see the point in rejecting the offer.
"To us, it would be a foolish move. We're not a wealthy tribe," Bohn said. "We could make a political statement, but making a political statement while your people freeze is not very wise."
Citgo will donate a lump sum to each of the six bands based on how many members are eligible for state heating assistance. Those band members will receive direct credits on their heating bills through Citgo's program, said Gary Frazer, the tribe's executive director.
Citgo has allotted 250 gallons of heating oil or the equivalent for each household. With Citgo figuring that each gallon is worth $2.25, the donation is $562.50 per household, about a 40 percent discount on most winter heating bills for homes on Chippewa reservations. The program runs from Nov. 15 until March 15.
Based on last year's state heating-assistance rolls, the tribe estimates that more than 2,700 households will be eligible for aid. Tribal day-care facilities for children and the elderly will also get a discount on heating fuel.
The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe -- an umbrella group that includes Bois Forte, Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs and White Earth bands -- plans to distribute money to the bands in the coming weeks.
You can't beat the goodwill that solidarity kicks off. Folks remember who's helped them in a time of need. Perhaps our newly minted House and Senate will take note.
LIHEAP, started in 1982 with an appropriations of about $1.8 bn, is still essentially funded at 1982 levels today. Virtually no increase for inflation, virtually no increase for the doubling of energy prices over the past few years. And as we all know, the energy to heat one's home costs a lot more today than it did in 1982. The time has come to restore LIHEAP to health by re-evaluating it's funding, something which will easily involve increasing its funding by a factor of 3. If we're serious about helping our poor so that Hugo Chavez doesn't have to, the time to start is now.