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Energy Assistance Money Not Helping Texans In Need

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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – In the stifling heat currently impacting North Texas, even the sound of a small air conditioning unit can be music to your ears.

For Melinda Lira, a mother of two young children living in Dallas, it might as well be an alarm clock.  “I’m worried any day now my electric could be cut off. I don’t know what I’m going to do without air.”

Lira and her family keep their window unit air conditioner cranked up because if you walk to the other side of the room in their apartment, it’s hot, there is a noticeable temperature difference.

The state has plenty of money to help people like the Liras, but isn’t.  For nearly a decade, the state has collected an extra dollar on most consumers electric bills to help those in need pay theirs.

The System Benefit Fund is a utility program administered by the Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas.  Records show at the end of last year, the state had $608 Million sitting in the fund.  This year, only $28 Million will be spent.

The state has said it needed the money to balance the budget, and has not allowed the money to be used for what it’s earmarked for.

“I don’t think it’s right.  I’ve tried everything.  I’ve called agencies to see if they can help me, and everyone’s out of funds.”

Reverend Gerald Britt says at City Square, formerly the Central Dallas Ministries, money is evaporating.  “It just becomes a classic example of what it means to balance the budget on the backs of poor people.”

Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis of Fort Worth is among the lawmakers outraged.  “We have to be more transparent and if we’re not going to use money for its intended purpose, then we should stop collecting it for that purpose.”

As for Melinda Lira, she and her husband are looking for work, and the rent is due Wednesday.  “Nothing’s coming in, and i don’t know how we’re going to do it now.”

Governor Rick Perry has previously said the fund should be spent on its intended use.

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