The latest version of the DTV date-changing bill approved by the Senate last night has no additional funding for the DTV-to-analog converter box coupon program, according to a Senate source's reading of a change made in the House.
So, even if it passes the House next week and is signed by the President on Feb. 4, the millions of DTV-to-analog coupon box requests will remain on the waiting list until at least mid-February.
That is because the money for reissuing the coupons is in a separate bill, the economic stimulus package.
But moving the date will obviously make freeing up coupons a somewhat less pressing objective. “Simply put,” said the Senate source, "the transition date extension in the new bill (S. 352) provides a cushion for Congress to address funding and coupon distribution in advance of the new June 12, 2009 transition date.”
The original DTV bill used emergency funding from current budgets to pay for costs associated with the switch and re-issuing coupons, so the money would have been available immediately.
The exact language was:
"Each amount made available under section 3005 of the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005 (47 U.S.C. 309 note) as a result of the amendments made by this Act is designated as an emergency requirement and necessary to meet emergency needs pursuant to section 204(a) of S. Con. Res. 21 (110th Congress) and section 301(b)(2) of S. Con. Res. 70 (110th Congress), the concurrent resolutions on the budget for fiscal years 2008 and 2009."
But the bill that passed the Senate Thursday night was one that had been modified in the House to help it get Republican support, unsuccessfully as it turned out. One of the modifications was language that tied the coupon funds to the stimulus funding.
According to the new language: "The amendments made by this section shall not take effect until the enactment of additional budget authority after the date of enactment of this Act to carry out the analog-to-digital converter box program under section 3005 of the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005."
That "additional budget authority" is the $650 million in the stimulus package for DTV coupons and general educdation, a Senate source confirms. But that bill is not expected to be passed until mid-February.
At last count there were over 3.2 million on the list, with more being added daily.