Operation Fuel, CT Association for Community Action Urge Congress To Save Funding For Low-Income Energy Aid

Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Hartford, CT

Connecticut Association For Community Action And State Lawmakers Join In Request

After Gloria Dorn, 80, and her husband Paul, 81, paid the rent, the Sherman couple had only $1,273 left to pay for food, transportation and heat each month.

Without help from the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, the Dorns, whose only income source is Social Security, would have been without heat this past winter. Now, proposed reductions in the federal budget would cut the program's funding in half, threatening low-income families and seniors who depend on the program to stay warm.

At a press conference Tuesday morning at the state Capitol, two nonprofit groups, Operation Fuel and the Connecticut Association for Community Action, joined with state lawmakers to urge Congress to keep funding for LIHEAP at Fiscal 2011 levels. Proposed cuts would reduce funding for the program from $5.1 billion to $2.5 billion for Fiscal 2012. Last year, the fund assisted 9 million households nationwide, but the proposed cut could eliminate more than 3 million households from the program.

If that happens, Connecticut's share would drop from $97 million to $41 million. Last year, more than 113,000 Connecticut low-income residents qualified for LIHEAP, with the average household receiving $863 to help with fuel costs. The loss of $56 million could either cut the number of recipients in half or drastically reduce the average benefit, said Pat Wrice, executive director of Operation Fuel. The private nonprofit program provides emergency energy assistance to low-income families and seniors who aren't eligible for LIHEAP.

LIHEAP funds are distributed through the Connecticut Association for Community Action. To be eligible, families can earn up to 150 percent of poverty level; for a family of four that's about $33,525 a year.

Experts predict fuel prices will rise more than 7 percent this winter, although energy forecasting is notoriously unreliable.

"The cost of a gallon of heating oil is expected to go up to $4.04 a gallon this winter, up from $3.56," Wrice said.

About a third of the program's recipients are seniors, another 25 percent are families with children and another 25 percent are people with disabilities, Wrice said.

Wages for low-income working families have remained flat in recent years, but heating costs have soared. "A gallon of heating oil was $1.58 in 2005," said Susan Dyer, a selectwoman in Norfolk.

The summer is also a difficult time for families and seniors struggling to pay energy bills. This crisis currently affects one out of every five households in Connecticut.

The Dorns, who are both disabled, heat with natural gas. They received about $2,000 last year from LIHEAP and the Salvation Army to help cover their heating bills.

"We keep the thermostat at 65 degrees," Gloria Dorn said. "If we don't have help, we'll be in dire need."

Podsada, Janice. The Courant. "Operation Fuel Urges Congress To Save Funding For Low-Income Energy Aid". August 2, 2011.

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